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Grouchy Golf Blog

Monday, August 29, 2005 at 1:08 AM

Wie Goin' Pro...

More clues are emerging that indicate Michelle Wie will turn pro sooner rather than later. My local paper, the Los Angeles Times, reported Saturday that she is "close to signing with the William Morris Agency, which would end her amateur career." According to an unnamed insider, "the agency offered Wie a large guarantee and also cut its commission to nothing."

This isn't surprising to me as it makes a lot of common sense. However, critics will say that Wie isn't ready for a pro career yet and point to her lack of wins as the primary reason. But did anyone seriously think that Michelle should have won the tournaments that she played this year? It would have been a minor miracle for any 15 year-old to win any of the events that she played. Her results so far have been more than impressive. Nonetheless, the standard argument is that there is an "art to winning" and that Michelle just hasn't learned it yet. As Al Davis would say, "Just Win, Baby." While I do believe that this argument holds merit, as it has worked for Tiger and Phil, I do not believe that it is a necessary requirement for success as a pro.

Many believe that Michelle should play amateur events to rack up these all-important wins. But there are a number of accomplished amateur golfers who haven't done jack at the pro level. Consider the prestigious U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship that crowned it's 105th champion this weekend. It is considered to be one of the hardest golf tournaments to win. It's tough just to qualify to play in the tournament, let alone win the darn thing. Over the last 20 years, here are some of the names of its past champions: Sam Randolph, Buddy Alexander, Eric Meeks, Chris Patton, Mitch Voges, John Harris, David Gossett, Jeff Quinney, and Ben "Bubba" Dickerson. While these guys earned a degree in the "art of winning," they just weren't able to take it to the next level.

On the women's side, remember Kelli Kuehne? She won two straight U.S. Women's Amateurs and the Women's British Amateur. She turned pro at the end of 1996 and hasn't done much so far.

If it's so important for Michelle to win, I'd be happy to play against her for as many heads-up matches as she wants. Whether it's match play or stroke play, I'd try my very best to beat her. But that's like William Hung trying to out-sing Sinatra. I have no doubt that Wie would win 1,000 straight matches against me without lifting a finger. Unfortunately, it wouldn't do her an ounce of good.

I think that Michelle Wie is such a gifted golfer that she'll learn the "art of winning" on the pro level. I believe that her deep experience on the pro tours has been more beneficial to her than if she would have played on the amateur circuit. She has learned what it takes to be successful on the pro tours, and she understands her weaknesses that she must improve. This knowledge would have likely been unavailable to Wie on the amateur level.

For example, while Michelle has an amazing golf game, a glaring weakness has surfaced in her game: putting. On the amateur level, Wie could have easily dominated the competition even with a shaky flat stick because the rest of her game is so phenomenal. As a result, she likely would have glossed over the importance of putting. However, on the pro level, poor putting is the kiss of death. Michelle is learning this first-hand and early in her development which she can address immediately. Tiger learned this early in his pro career, something that Michelle is learning even earlier. is already considered one of the best, so if she can turn her putting around, the wins will follow. Be patient Mr. Davis.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005 at 1:57 AM

Golf Tips - Rap Holds the Key to Golf

As I was flipping channels the other day, something on Rap City, the BET music video show, caught my attention. It was more than just the usual booty shaking, Cristal popping, bling flossing, and pimped-out whips on 20" dubs. I became entranced with the lyrics from Terror Squad's rap video, "Lean Back." As strange as it sounds, I realized that this song secretly contains one of the keys to the golf swing in its catchy chorus:
"I said my #!&&@$ don't dance,
We just pull up our pants and,
Do the Roc-away.
Now lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..."
No, it's not in the dance, the pants or even the "Roc-away." The key to the golf swing is to "lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..." If you look at the swings of the best golfers in the world, you'll notice this recurring theme. Whether it's a one or two-plane swing, weak or strong grip, quick or slow swing tempo they all share one common trait: at impact, the hands are always ahead of the clubhead. In other words, the shaft always leans back to the ball at impact. This is a very important fact to remember as I believe that it is the key to proper ball-striking. If there were ever a "secret to golf" or the "key to the golf swing" I truly believe that this is it.

I advise every golfer to read this Golf Digest article by Tom Ness for drills to ingrain this impact position. According to Mr. Ness, "The act of trying to get the clubhead moving faster - by throwing or flipping it toward the ball - is the single biggest source of frustration in the game...Poor players let the clubhead pass the front arm before impact. In fact, there's a direct correlation http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifbetween when the shaft catches up to the lead arm and handicap. The later it catches up, the lower the handicap. It's really that simple."

Your wrist positions at impact are key to achieving ball-striking nirvana. In particular, the lead wrist (the left wrist for a right-handed golfer) must not break through impact. Instead, the lead wrist needs to supinate. Mr. Ness notes, "A good player's leading wrist is flat and the trailing wrist is bent." A mental image that I like to envision to help me achieve this impact position is painting with a brush. When you paint with a brush, you always lead with your hand, with the brush trailing behind, correct? I imagine that my club is a long paintbrush and I'm painting the ground. Another image that might do the trick is to imagine that the club is a broom and that you are sweeping the ground with the broomhead trailing your hands.

Do yourself a favor and videotape your golf swing. Your impact position should look similar to this SwingVision photo of Tiger hitting an iron. If it's not, you will improve your ball-striking astronomically if you work on achieving this impact position each and every time. I would personally guarantee it, but my attorney advises otherwise.

So the next time you're out on the golf course, think of this little rap to improve your ball striking:
"I said my caddies don't lie,
We just let the ball fly and,
Swing the shaft away...
To lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..."

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Monday, August 15, 2005 at 11:52 AM

The Golf Gods Smile on the Smile

After 2 rounds, Phil Mickelson had the PGA Championship locked up, or so it seemed. At 8 under, he held a 3 shot lead over the closest competitor, average guy Jerry Kelly. Phil faltered a bit on Sat. and ended the round tied for the lead at 6 under with Davis Love III.

Sunday arrived and Phil started off well. After 5 holes, Phil took sole possession of the lead at 7 under. But Phil's driver started sputtering at the 6th hole with a missed fairway that led to a bogey. His confidence shaken, Phil bogeyed the very next hole. Two more bogeys over the next 3 holes and it was clear that Phil was leaking more oil than a '71 Ford Pinto. Suddenly, about half-a-dozen were back in contention. Heck, even Tiger Woods looked like he had a chance at 2 under. The greens were firming under an oppressive August sun producing the most difficult conditions of the tournament. Birdies would be rare, pars would be welcome. Phil lost his lead to Steve Elkington and the Wannamaker was slipping away from his grasp. It was turning out to be a wild finish.

But then a not-so-surprising thing happened after Phil hit his approach shot on the 14th hole. Thunderclouds clustered above Baltusrol and suspended play. But it wasn't just a short delay. Although the PGA of America and CBS Sports officials understood the strong possibilities of afternoon thunderstorms, they did not move up the tee times to accommodate a weather delay. As a result, virtually any delay would end play for the day.

Maybe the Golf Gods got all warm and fuzzy from Phil's endorsement winning smile and intervened with a couple of lightning bolts. Whatever the reason, the suspension saved Phil's impending collapse. Phil could bolt his wheels back on and recharge his depleted stamina. The bogey train would be slowed from rain-softened greens and cooler weather. Indeed, playing conditions were much easier on Monday and Phil took advantage to win by a stroke.

Some may think that I may not be happy about Phil's 2nd major win. While it's true that he's not my favorite golfer, Phil happens to be my cash cow, literally. I had money riding on him when he won the Masters last year. Before the start of this year's PGA Championship, my bookie offered me 12-1 odds that Phil would win. I didn't think he would win, but I did like the odds. So I dropped some greenbacks on Phil. He won and so did I. He smiled and so did I. But mine was genuine.

Photo by Hunter Martin/WireImage.com

Monday, August 08, 2005 at 12:01 AM

Pavin Proofing Golf Courses

Obviously, Tiger Woods is a once-in-a-lifetime golf talent. His unprecedented combination of Daly length, Mickelson short game, Crenshaw putting, and Jack everything else ushered in a new era in golf. Tiger broke records in record speed. Many felt that if something wasn't done, Mr. Woods would dominate every course in sight and threaten the very game itself. As a result, course architects were ordered to defend their courses by lengthening holes, narrowing fairways, adding bunkers, and making other changes designed to declaw the Tiger.

The practice became so commonplace that it became known as "Tiger-proofing" a golf course. Unfortunately, anyone competing against Tiger plays on the same course that he plays. Therefore, "Tiger-proofing" also becomes "Mickelson, Singh, Els, and everone else proofing."

In some ways, "Tiger-proofing" gives Tiger an even greater advantage. Course lengthening elevates the importance of the driver, giving long hitters a tremendous edge. Guys that I can out drive, such as Corey Pavin, are virtually shut-out of these marathon-long courses. Even with all the latest distance enhancing golf technology, Pavin still only drives the ball about as far as he did 20 years ago. In fact, he is shorter now. Back in the days of balatas and persimmon of 1985, Pavin's average driving distance was 262.4 yds. So far this year, Pavin is only averaging 255.5 yds.! With courses being lengthened 300+ yards, it's like Corey has to play another Par 4 every round compared to Tiger.

The effects of "Tiger-proofing" will be evident at this week's PGA Championship at Baltusrol. The course has been lengthened to a monster 7,392-yards, the longest par 70 course in the tournament's history. Tiger played a practice round at Baltusrol last week and described it as "brutal", not a good sign for the shorter hitters. Therefore, look for a big boy to win the PGA. While Tiger is the favorite, I think that it'll be Vijay's turn for a major. No one changes putters more frequently than Vijay and, when he does, he often captures lightning in a bottle. He changed putters at the Buick Open this year, and subsequently putted his way to victory over Tiger. He did virtually the same thing last year, and it led to a win at the 2004 PGA. Déjà vu?

In the end, it's clear that "Tiger-proofing" doesn't work. All it does is make it harder for everyone else. If you want to truly "Tiger-proof" a course, you need to shorten the course. In fact, if they held the next PGA Championship at my local Golf N' Stuff miniature golf course, I think that even I would have a decent shot at beating Tiger. I'd like to see him try to putt his Nike One Platinum through a mini windmill with spinning windmill blades or try to read the break inside the mouth of a one-eyed alien.

Monday, August 01, 2005 at 10:57 AM

Boredom at the Bridges

Last week, I watched the final installment of the made for prime time TV golf event, "Battle at The Bridges." Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson beat Tiger Woods and John Daly and will split the $1.2 million top prize. After I had awakened, I concluded that it was some of the least compelling TV that I had ever seen. If there was such a thing as televised competitive knitting, I think that I would have rather watched that.

Sadly, I have seen all 7 installments since the series debuted in 1999. Each time that I've watched the event, I've hoped that it would be interesting or at least better than the one before. Each time I've been disappointed. At least in prior installments, ABC tried to keep the event interesting with launch monitor analysis, long-drive competitions, etc. This time around, ABC didn't utilize anything. No launch monitors, no slo-mo, nada. They didn't even bother to mark the yardages on the long holes to show the driving distances. It was like everyone just gave up - the players, the announcers, the sign boys, and eventually me. My friend Tony over at Hooked On Golf observed the same thing.

The series is billed as the first and only golf event televised live in prime time. One of its goals is to deliver golf to an audience that might not otherwise have been exposed to televised golf. While "Monday Night Golf" might accomplish this goal, it does little to actually generate lasting interest in televised golf. In fact, I think that it does a disservice - not only to televised golf, but to golf in general. If my first exposure to golf was this dreadful exhibition of ennui, I likely would have never picked up a golf club. Instead, I may have gone so far as to despise golf and join some radical group hell-bent on abolishing it from TV.

I think that the main problem with live televised golf, in general, is that there is a relatively scarce amount of action to actually watch. Give me a Tivo, and I can watch a 3 hour golf event in 30 minutes tops. This problem is greatly exacerbated when there's only one group on the course. Watching such golf becomes a mundane pattern of watching 4 guys hit their ball, waiting 10-15 mins. until they hit them again, rinse, spin, and then repeat. The only way that this can be even remotely viewable is if they fit in an episode of the "Making of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue" into the down times. On second thought, there'd still be enough room to squeeze in an NFL preseason preview show and maybe a Seinfeld re-run or two. Now that would be must-see TV.