April 7, 2014

Early Season Insights and New Putter Grip

So far this season I was able to get two rounds in while in San Diego as well as a few days of great practice. Nothing special came out of my rounds in San Diego and my first round in Chicago on a chilly day was nothing short of discouraging. This past weekend I went back out and had a better round with a lot more to be excited about. I hit the ball well off the tee, never put myself in too much trouble, had a few scrambling pars but also a few holes that were simply rust inspired.

Over the winter I took a quick putting lesson and have been determined to make myself a better putter this season. I know I need to work on my grip pressure and speed to make this happen. Over my first few practice session I just didn’t feel very comfortable with the putter or consistent with my speed control. In my past experience I have found that sometimes a simple change can get you excited about your game again and make a big difference. This got me thinking about what I could change about my putting. I have messed around with different putting styles and didn’t want to do that again. Enter the Super Stroke putting grip.

These grips are making a splash on the PGA Tour and I’m sure you have seen the commercials. I figured what the heck, let’s see what the fuss is about. I put one on my putter and have to say I’m a fan. The bigger grip has let me grip the putter lighter and still roll the ball with much more consistent speed. My putting stats have improved so far this short season and I’m encouraged that they will only get better as the weather warms up and playing becomes a more consistent reality. I’m not a big proponent of pushing products, but I would encourage anyone who is curious about these grips to give them a look. I was pleasantly surprised.

February 6, 2014

Bringing it Back to the Backswing

After my last post about my swing update I was feeling really good about my swing and where I was given the fact that it is winter here in Chicago and -10 degrees almost every other day. I took that confidence to the simulators at Play 18 and played a round of indoor golf against two of my normal playing buddies. The results were less than impressive and I felt a little bit off with the swing I was so confident about a few days before.

Prior to the round on the simulator I took a lesson with Geoff Lound and worked on some fundamentals around my grip and backswing. I felt good about what we were working on and it all made a lot of sense. After the simulator round I took another lesson with Geoff and a big light turned on about my lack of understanding on the fundamentals of the back swing. The picture below is a screen shot of my back swing position during my first lesson. Geoff pointed out that it is across the line with a little bit of a cupping in the left wrist. After seeing this I honestly had no idea I was doing it and couldn’t get myself to “feel” the backswing without the cup in my wrist.

Swing Right

Geoff and I started my next lesson with a few swings and he again pointed out the cupping in the wrist and the lack of control at the top of the swing. He put me on the Swing Robot in order to feel the proper position of the takeaway and the back swing. He was trying to get me to really focus on feeling the proper wrist action on the back swing. A lot of this was stuff that I worked on last winter with Mike Thornburg, but I had let myself slip back into bad habits. Also, if you haven’t seen the Swing Robot you should check it out. The thing is wacky, but really cool. It definitely helped me feel the proper position in the back swing. For me it felt like my club was super laid off, but in reality it was right on plane.

So after working on the robot and doing some swing drills with Geoff we took another video and here is my back swing position after using the robot. Notice a difference?

Swing Left

I was very surprised to see how flat my left wrist was and how on plane I was. Again, this to me felt like I was extremely laid off. It took some getting used to, but the results were immediate. I hit some shots on the simulator and after a little calibration I was getting a fairly straight ball flight with very consistent distance. This was very encouraging. I know that the feeling will take some getting used to, but now that I know what it should feel like, I feel pretty confident that I can implement the change into my swing and game.

Here are the two swing side by side. Crazy what a one hour lesson can do for your game! If you are in Chicago, I highly recommend you check out Play 18 and get a tune up with Geoff.

Backswing Side by Side

January 17, 2014

Swing Update January 2014

I had some time to get into the indoor hitting bays at Play 18 Chicago again and got some good work in. I wrote in my last post how I was pleased with the way I was swinging and hitting the ball after so much time off. Now that I went back, I wanted to share a brief clip of my swing. This is a full out 6 Iron after hitting a handful of Sand Wedges to warm up. As you can see, the numbers are pretty darn good. I’ll take a 180 6 Iron with a 2 yard draw all day! Excited with where things are and can’t wait to keep getting better heading into the summer! As always please feel free to share your thoughts on the swing.

*Ball speed 120, Club speed 95, Vertical launch 21.3

January 6, 2014

-15 Outside, Swinging the Club Inside

In case you have been living under a rock for the past week you know that a large portion of the country is covered in a rare arctic wind. It is currently -15 in Chicago and instead of sporting my best winter jacket I decided to dawn my first golf blister on the new year. Over the weekend I ventured into the indoor hitting range and spent an hour and a half figuring out what a month off had done to my swing. When I say a month off, I really mean that I didn’t pick up a single club for a full month. I didn’t even do any rehearsal swings in the elevator mirror of my building which my door man knows all too well.

I brought my pitching wedge, 7 iron and 3 wood into the hitting bay and starting things off with some wedge work. Like I expected, I had a few fat and a small stretch of army golf trying to figure things out. After that, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I started hitting the ball. My accuracy was ok even with the occasional bad miss, but in general I was grooving my distances fairly well. The best thing about the session was actually how confident I felt over the ball. I didn’t have any bad swing thoughts and I seemed to have no fear which is rare for me. I tend to let the bad thoughts sneak into my head and this new aggressive mentality was a welcome surprise.

I have written about this before, but I think this range session was just another example of how having limited or no expectations going into a round of golf can really free you up. Some of my best rounds to date have been rounds where I wasn’t expecting to play at all and a friend has called me up for an impromptu round. Some of my worst rounds have been the ones that I have months to prepare for. This latest practice session is just another example of how fun golf can be when you take the pressure off of yourself and truly try to enjoy it.

Now that the Chicago river is steaming and 90% frozen I can only think about digging out my warmest ski gear to brave the short trip back to the indoor hitting facility. My blister might not be fully healed yet, but that has never stopped me before. Can’t wait for the 2014 season to start!

October 31, 2013

Defending Brandel Chamblee

As much as I can I try to stay away from talking about stories that the golf media create simply because there is nothing else going on in the golf world at the moment, but I can’t help myself but jump in on this Tiger vs Chamblee story.

If you want a good example of how back and forth the golf media is with the top stars, do yourself a favor and look back at the seemingly unbelievable breakdown Rick Reilly put together outlining who could de-throne Tiger. His conclusion was the only person to replace Tiger was Tiger himself! What? Wow! What an amazing insight Rick. The best part was that a few weeks later when Rory started winning Reilly quickly labeled him the next big thing. What about the wonderful world of Tiger you wrote about before Rick? I guess if Rick Reilly can so easily forget about his bold prediction we all should too.

Damon Hack went ahead and stepped over the line, in my opinion, with Rory a while back as well. In the beginning of Rory’s struggles Hack wrote and open letter to Rory. The letter basically questioned Rory’s work ethic, his motivations and his ability to stay focused in the lime light. How is it ok for someone to question these things but it is not ok for one writer to say that Tiger was “cavalier” with the rules this year?

I for one, think that Chamblee is a fantastic broadcaster. He brings a different view to the telecast that I enjoy. He is openly critical of not only Tiger, but all players when he feels it is necessary. Do I think he called Tiger a cheater? No. I think he stated what a lot of other people thought as well. The ruling at the Master’s was one of the strangest in golf history. Tiger openly admitted that he moved the ball backwards on his drop. that alone tells me he intended to give himself an advantage on his drop. Even other players came out and said Tiger should withdraw from the tournament due to the mix up. No one called him a cheater, they just said the rules of golf had been broken and the right thing to do would be to fess up and move on.

Can you imagine the ramification if he had been disqualified or had withdrawn himself? The TV ratings would plummet, the Master’s would be marred in scandal and Tiger would have missed another shot at catching Jack. There was NO WAY the golfing world would let that happen. If you think otherwise you are crazy.

Let’s fast forward to today. Chamblee has apologized to Tiger on air and in writing. I don’t think much more needs to be done from either end and I hope this goes away. The fact that it involves Tiger makes me know that this little feud will never go away as long as Chamblee is on air and commenting on the golf world. It will simply always be a story and I think that is sad.

The last point I will make in this whole rules debacle is the recent incident with Simon Dyson. The article is still up on Golf.com and can be read here. Dyson tapped down a mark on his putting line in direct violation of the rules and was disqualified and is now facing a fine and possible suspension from the tour. Where was this type of action for Tiger’s violation at the Masters? Why is it ok for Dyson to get the full extent of the rules and Tiger not? I firmly believe the rules should apply across the board and in my humble opinion it doesn’t seem like that is happening. It seems to me that Tiger is bigger than the game right now. I understand how much the game of Golf needs Tiger and how much he has done for the game. It can’t be quantified what Tiger means to Golf, but how can we crucify an analyst for pointing out what actually happened? It seems like a case of a slow news day that simply needs to go away.

October 16, 2013

New Golf Glove with Unexpected Comfort

Normally I don’t like to endorse products, but when I come across something I really like I want to share. Since I have started The Birdie Hunt I have talked about Club Champion and the phenomenal club fitting they provide, my online swing lesson with Fix Your Game, my in person lessons at Play 18 Chicago and today I am going to add one more item to my list. Mettle golf gloves.

I came across Mettle Golf on Twitter and randomly checked out their website. After reading a bit about the company and their products I was intrigued. After all, the golf glove is a very ho hum part of the golf outfit that normally doesn’t get much attention. Normally I just buy a glove at the course when my current one has finally broken down and torn apart.

I went ahead and got myself two of their gloves. They only come in two color combinations as of now, but I have been assured that more designs and colors are coming down the road.

photo 2

When I first took them out of the package I was surprised at the spandex like material on the top of the glove. I put the glove on and my first reaction was that the glove felt almost light on my hand. It didn’t feel like any other glove I had worn before. The leather felt great and was on the level of many of the “tour” quality gloves you can buy. The real difference was the material on the top part of the glove. It was breathable, stretchy and light weight. It felt pretty good, but I wasn’t sure how it would feel swinging a club.

The next day, I went to the range and warmed up with my normal worn down nike glove. After a short warm up with my crusty glove I switched over to the Mettle glove. I have to admit that it still gave me some hesitation because of how light it felt to my other glove. I hit some balls with my wedge, 7 iron and driver and quickly forgot that I was even wearing a glove. It felt great and performed very well. I used the Mettle glove for the rest of my range session with zero complaints. After I was done I took it off and examined the glove. It looked exactly like it did when I took it out of the packaging. There was no visible wear or tear after hitting two large buckets. This is something I could get excited about.

I played 18 holes with the glove over the weekend and again was impressed with the light weight feel of the glove, it’s performance and the fact that it stood up to 18 holes without any wear or tear. It literally looks brand new and I love that. I hate having to put on a crusty used glove and I have yet to experience that with these gloves.

photo 1

The design caught the attention of some of my playing partners who all wanted to try it on to see what I was talking about. The general consensus was the at the glove felt great and that everyone would like to see it in more colors and designs. I will admit that this is my one hang up with the glove as well. The drastic colors don’t always match with every golf outfit and can look a little uncoordinated if paired with the wrong polo. I for one will be continuing to wear my Mettle golf glove because it is incredibly comfortable and performs surprisingly well on the course. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for new colors and designs as they are released. If you are interested in checking them out for yourself give Mettle Golf a visit and see what you think!

October 2, 2013

Fall in Love with Your Weaknesses

There was an interesting article featured on LinkedIn, via the Huffington Post, yesterday by James Clear called “How to Stay Focused When Working on Your Goals Gets Boring.”  The article is interesting and incredibly relevant the everyday golfer. We have limited time to practice yet we all strive for exceedingly lofty goals. We all want to shoot lower scores and have lower handicaps. There is a reason that it doesn’t happen for a lot of us. Mainly it is the way we practice.

The author asked a coach he saw in the gym the following question, “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else? What do the really successful people do that most people don’t?” The coaches response made me really stop and think about how I truly practice my golf game. The coach said, “At some point, it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”

After I read this quote I thought about how I go about practicing to improve my game. I thought back to my last session at the range and which clubs I spent a lot of time hitting. I started with some PW’s, 7 irons, a few 5 irons then spent quite a while hitting my 3 wood off the deck and my driver. After all that I chipped and putted for 20 mins and went home.

Next, I went through which clubs I hit the most during my last round. I only hit one 3 wood off the deck, driver on most holes, no 5 irons, and more PWs, SWs and shots around the green than I can count. My practice session did not reflect the weakness in my game at all. If I had been practicing smarter I would have spent the time on my wedge game instead of the macho long game.

The quote from the coach in the article made me think about how much I neglect my short game practice. I have put a lot of work in on it over the past year, but I have been committed to making it something I love to practice. It has to be something I am committed to practicing above every other aspect of my game. Right now, it is just another part of my game. I want it to be the BEST part of my game and think there needs to be a shift in my practice schedule to make that happen.

For the remainder of this season and the winter time I am going to make it a goal of mine to wear my wedges out. I want to go into next season needing to buy brand new wedges since I have absolutely worn them out from practice. This probably sounds excessive and it might be, but it can’t hurt to set a goal and go for it!

September 23, 2013

Driving Par 4′s, Tap in Birdies and More Bad Putting

I made it out to the course yesterday for a round with two of my normal playing partners for what turned out to be quite an interesting round. We could not have gotten a better day for golfing weather if we were in charge of mother nature’s thermostat ourselves.  The round started off fine with a mix of pars and bogeys and a few short birdie putt misses.

After the fifth hole it was impossible to find a flat putt on the course. We weren’t sure if the course set up was on purpose or if the guy putting the flags in had just gone through a bad break up or was nursing a mean hangover, but the pin placements for the rest of the course were absolutely brutal. It was down right mean. Any putt above the hole was an almost guaranteed three putt. Needless to say our scores began to take a hit.

After the turn we stepped on the 10th tee with a little bit of frustration. My playing Partner Adam stepped on the 313 par 4 10th and pulled his driver out. Normally this is a 4 iron lay up or aggressive 3 wood on the tee. Adam decided he had had enough and was going for the green. The picture below is the result. I have played this course over 20 times and have never seen a ball on the green let alone this close.

image-1

Now our round had some excitement. We all stalked around the putt giving our input because we desperately wanted to see him drop it for Eagle. The video below shows the putt itself.

After that the round was very un-remarkable and I felt like I hit the ball much better than my score reflected. My short game was a bit off and my putting hurt me, but I am not putting a ton of stock in that just yet because of how severe some of the pin placements were. I’m encouraged by a lot in my game right now and feel like I have some very good golf in front of me before winter rolls around and the sticks go into semi hibernation.

September 10, 2013

Time to Move – Your Chair is Killing Your Golf Swing

When I think about game improvement in golf, I think about taking lessons, getting new clubs, buying that new training aid that advertises on the golf channel non stop and even hitting the gym. If you are anything like the average golfer, chances are you have done one or all of these things to try to improve your game. The reality is, the average golfer doesn’t have the ability to dedicate as much time to practicing, as they would like. Almost every average golfer would rather spend more time at the range or on the course as opposed to at their desk, but there is something we can all do to improve our game while we are stuck at work that the majority of us don’t take advantage of.

There are drastic physical implications tied to sitting at a desk for six or more hours every day. There is extensive literature that suggests our sedentary desk jobs are literally killing us slowly. Sitting also does not promote the best posture and back support that we strive for on the golf course.

In order to better understand the physical implications a desk job can have on the body I asked Dr. Patrick Malartsik of Elite Performance Chiropractic to explain it to me. In his words:

“The golf swing needs to have normal movement from the heel, to the hip, the pelvis, spine, and into the shoulders. When someone is sedentary for 40 hours per week and there is chronic tissue damage resulting in a lack of range of motion, there can be physical ailments in the golf swing. A golfer can get all the golf lessons in the world but you need to restore the proper range of motion in order to achieve the ‘ideal’ golf swing.”

The fact that sitting at your desk can cause tissue damage made me cringe. All the work at the range we struggle to fit in was being compromised as soon as we sit down at our desks on Monday morning.

So what can we do about it? Dr. Malartsik says:

“I would advise everyone to stand up and stretch at least 1-2 times per hour of sitting. The human body was created for movement, not sitting. Holding any posture for a period of time will increase tissue stiffness and tension. As a result, sitting is the most common cause for back and neck pain. You will see many advertisements and websites that say they have a chair or device that can stop back pain but remember that the best chair is the one you get out of frequently!”

After hearing about the damage our chairs have on our backs I was determined to fight back. I wasn’t going to take the punishment my chair was causing my golf game sitting down. Literally.

In order to fight back I tried the following things at work.

1)    Set reminders – I used my Google calendar to set reminders to get up and walk around a little bit during the day. At first I set them for every 30 minutes, but quickly realized that this was too frequent and honestly annoying.

2)    Standing Desk – I took two card board boxes and propped my laptop up on them to bring them to eye level. This actually isn’t that bad for short to intermediate periods of time. I can’t imagine doing this all day long, but for 30 minute periods it isn’t all that bad.

3)    Stretched – This one is a little bit more awkward at times, but I actually took some time throughout the day to actually stretch. I felt much better at the end of the day and didn’t have the same level of tightness in my back and neck that I normally have at the end of the day.

All in all, I completely agree that our desk chairs are not only killing us, but also killing our golf swings. As bleak as it may seem, I do believe that there are some practical applications one can implement in their daily routine to fight the effects of sitting all day. If you have any other techniques or tips feel free to share.  Also, if you are interested in getting a physical evaluation and professional help check out Dr. Malartsik’s practice located in River North here in Chicago called Elite Performance Chiropractic.

September 9, 2013

Late Season Revelation – I’m a Terrible Putter

I was out on Cape Cod over the Labor Day weekend and despite some awful New England weather I was able to get a round of golf in with two of my good buddies. I continued my recent trend of great tee shots and much improved iron play. After the round I looked back and realized I hit over 50% of the fairways and 12 greens in regulation with no penalty shots and I still carded an 87. This brought out a glaring shortcoming in my game right now. I lost around 8 shots on the greens alone due to 3 putts.

After the round I was frustrated in a way I haven’t felt before on the course. I was beyond happy with how I hit the ball tee to green, but felt utterly confused by my putting performance. I went back to the course the next day to hit some balls and do some work on the greens just to see if I could find something to get me more engaged in my putting. I did a few drills and still didn’t feel like I was making consistent contact which led to my speed and accuracy being off. After 20 minutes of continued frustration I decided to start trying some new grips.

After a silly attempt at the claw and a Brandt Snedeker type pop stroke I still had nothing to hang my hat on. As a last resort I tried the left hand low grip with my arms tight to my body and a simple rock of the shoulders and I finally started to see some improvement. I have yet to take this new approach on the course for a round, but after two range sessions with it I feel much more focused on the greens and confident. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the technical stroke or just my mental approach and focus level, but I needed to make a change and this one seems like it might be good for now.

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