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The Open Round-Up

I hope you’re well and enjoying the UK heatwave and ‘freedom day/week’.

Last weekend Collin Morikawa won The Open at Royal St.Georges with an amazing final round on his first ever attempt. In doing so he became the youngest player to win 2 majors on debut and one of the quickest in history in just 8 major entries. Outrageous!

There are comparisons became made between him and Tiger, which I would usually say is just the media blowing a win out of proportion but there are some good links to this one…

Tiger and Collin are the only two players to win an Open and PGA Championship before 25 years of age and there statistics are spookily similar.

Collin Morikawa is absolutely dominating the strokes gained approach numbers this season – to the extent that Tiger used to. Remember that Tiger was never a great driver of the ball (Morikawa is decent) so this is where he made up his advantage. In fact, the stats between the years of 2004-2021 suggest that Morikawa is even better than Tiger in that period (Tiger in 1997-2004 I suspect would be better again).

So we know that the better the long game is (and particularly approach play), the more consistently at the top of the leaderboard you will be. To win, you then have to make the putts at the end of it. For his 2 major wins Morikawa has led the field in this stat and the evidence was there on the final day with a few really good par saving putts and a couple of birdie efforts. Every one seemed to go right in the middle also!

More majors in the pipeline? …. Absolutely. His approach game will always see him there or there abouts on tough courses. He isn’t the longest player but certainly not short either and on those weeks where his putter is hot he may well win.

What can amateur golfers take from this? … Collin Morikawa has one of the most repetitive, solid swings in golf, therefore he hits lots of consistent, solid shots. His swing mechanics don’t require him to fight anything and therefore he can reproduce the same shot over and over. He predominantly fades the ball off the tee and with his irons and he can trust that.

For club golfers at home, if you can improve your mechanics (doesn’t have to be complicated) and record how many greens you hit in regulation each round you can start to build some better results. Also, realise where your strengths and weaknesses are – your inability to hit a draw might not actually be holding you back as much as you think. Remember, that to improve you need to know where you are starting so a simple baseline stat is really important.

 

Lee Wilson, July 2021

How to create more spin around the green

This week the topic for the blog is wedge play and specifically how to spin your wedge shots more. It’s such a common thing that gets discussed in my short game lessons and there are some hard and fast rules that should be followed.

1- CLEAN YOUR GROOVES

If you don’t clean the mud, water and grass from your grooves then you are reducing the amount of friction that the ball and face can produce. Also, if you have an old wedge then the grooves will probably be worn and won’t grip the ball as much either

2- SOFTER GOLF BALLS WILL SPIN MORE

I’m not saying go out and spend £50 on a dozen Pro V1’s but the quality of your golf ball will have an impact.

3- YOU NEED LOFT

If you are the kind of golfer that uses a Pitching Wedge to pitch and chip the ball then you need to understand that you are losing loft compared to a 56-60 degree club. The more loft you have, the more you can get the ball running up the face and the more it will check on the green

4- YOU NEED SPEED

If you are the golfer listed on point 3 you probably also chip with a low speed swing. Having a bit more speed throughout will help to get the ball spinning more and landing softer. You need loft to do this!

5- BRUISE THE TURF

If you are striking the ball with a good, shallow angle of attack then you should feel like you can ‘bruise’ the turf without taking a divot. This will also help to run the ball up the face more. If you get too steep then the leading edge can dig too much and you might duff the shot or it may come off the face a bit hotter than you expected. Just remember that to get the strike you will need to contact the roots of the grass and not just flick the top of the blades.

6- BE MINDFUL OF PLAYING CONDITIONS

If your ball is sitting deep in the grass or is soaking wet (include the clubface in this too) then the ball won’t grip the face very well and will skid. To experiment with this situation try playing golf first thing when there is dew on the ground and then later on when it’s dried out. There is a big difference in the spin you can create.

One final closing point is to manage your  expectations. When playing shorter shots you won’t spin the ball to the point of seeing it roll backwards. It might just sit down a little quicker which is a great sign. Try these rules and see how you get on!

Understand your yardages!

We have some strange summer weather at the minute in the UK which is making courses as green as ever. This means that your golf course will be playing close to it’s full yardage and balls will be stopping quickly on the green.

When it becomes target golf in wet conditions knowing your carry distances with each iron is vital. Not only that but you have to know exactly how far it is to the flag or section of the green that you want to hit.

Something that always confuses me is how some golfers just assume they know how far it is by eye and based on past experience, without knowing where the flag is on the green that day – it makes no sense and is essentially guessing.

Golf is a truly difficult game that is different every time you play so wouldn’t it make sense to reduce the amount of variables?!

We can’t change the wind direction or strength, bad bounces or poor lies but we can control our club choices. Imagine if you knew how far each club travelled and you had a GPS or rangefinder device that told you exactly how far it is to the flag. Golf just got easier and you’ll probably hit more greens in regulation. It means that you will probably not come up short like 93% of shots in amateur golf and will hit more shots ‘pin high’ which will improve your proximity to the hole. All great tools to help you lower your score!

If the flag is tucked away then maybe you don’t want to hit pin high and what you need is to know what the distance is to the biggest part of the green. You may already think like this but if you don’t know a) your club distance and b) the distance to your intended target then what are chances of hitting it their!?

My simple tips:

1- Get yourself a rangefinder/ GPS distance measurer. Rangefinders are great for measuring to specific points (i.e. the flag, a tree) and GPS devices are great for front, middle back of green measurements and hazard distances. You don’t need such a steady hand for GPS devices either.

2- Spend time practicing your distances. It’s so important to help you get better. Remember you are not a robot so every shot with the same club won’t go the same distance but find out what your peak and your average distance is.

3- If you have played regularly at the same course for a long time don’t get complacent. It’s so easy to just assume how far the target is based on what you ‘usually’ hit. This leads to terrible habits when you play new courses. Keep a routine up where you include distance measuring. There is no guarantee that the flag is in the same position or the wind is in the same direction etc. Every shot you ever hit will be slightly different so treat it exactly like that.

4- Use the back of green yardage on your GPS device. A little trick which I’ve mentioned before is to try and hit to a distance that is closer the back of the green. This allows you a small margin for error for mishit.

Does caffeine intake benefit your golf?

This week’s blog post is going down the route of nutrition and specifically if caffeine benefits golf performance or not.

Having looked into a few research studies in the area the answer is yes, it can!

The body of research available on golf and caffeine all says that taken in moderate quantity that “caffeine enhances endurance and provides a small but worthwhile enhancement over a range of exercise protocols. Whether a short-duration, high-intensity event, or prolonged high intensity or endurance events, there is a clear benefit” (Australian Journal of Sport Fact Sheet, 2007).

I personally found this quite surprising as I assumed that the downsides of caffeine would impair performance more than the benefits but there is some caution that you should take…

At higher levels of caffeine intake – more than 150mg (a cup of coffee has between 40-110mg) you will see some of the following things happen:

  • increased heart rate
  • impaired fine motor control
  • over arousal
  • poor sleep

All of these things will clearly have negative impacts on a golfer, particularly the more delicate skills and controlling your emotions and calmness under pressure.

You should also always make sure that you hydrate correctly with water alongside caffeine intake to avoid any effects of dehydration in the longer term (end of a round of golf for example).

You may have heard about Phil Mickelson and Dave Phillips creating their own coffee brand called Coffee for Wellness which has been developed for sports performance. It contains a number of other ingredients from himalayan rock salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract. All of which help to promote all body health and better cognitive function whichj is clearly very important in golf.

I wonder if we’ll see more players using this approach in years to come?

Putting: The links between green reading and pace control

I have met many players who are technically good putters but hole nothing and plenty of players who have iffy strokes but seem to hole a lot of putts. It comes down to understanding pace of the ball and your read of the greens. See the picture below as an example:

This image of Rory McIlroy demonstrates the different factors to consider. On the tour speed greens you can see the difference between the line needed for a dead weight putt (yellow) and the line for a firmer pace (black). The apex of the dead weight putt is much higher up the slope on the right as the ball will be rolling much slower and therefore take the slope more. You can see how much the entry angle to the hole changes too as it will literally fall in from the right edge as opposed to a more central point on the firmer putt.

The factors to consider when reading your putt and selecting your preferred pace are:

  • Are you confident on 3-5 foot return putts? If not, then the risk of hitting your putts firmer on a straighter line is probably not worth it (unless your putt is inside 3 feet)
  • How quick are your greens? If they are slower then you can take some break out as the ball will always be travelling quicker on its way to the hole. If they are super quick then you have to gently use the slope more
  • Are the greens wet? Generally a bit of morning dew or rain will slow the greens down and therefore reduce the slope that you need to read into the putt
  • Is the wind strong enough to affect the ball? It is more marginal this one but a downwind putt will have to be hit softer and therefore will take more break again

Coaches Tip

I would say that 80% of really slopy putts are under read and miss on the low side due to poor pace or read. When you practice your long putts put a tee at the highest point (i.e. where you want to aim) and try 3 or 4 different putts at different speeds to see how the ball uses the slope and where the ball finishes. Aim to find a pace and read that finishes 12 inches past the hole and rolls in from the high side. Then try different length and slope putts until you are confident that you can see the break correctly. At this point remove the tee peg and practice with 1 ball (as if on the course) and see how you get on.

 

Lee Wilson; June 2021

What are the YIPS and how do you stop them?

The yips are a strange phenomenon that can happen to anybody and can show in many different ways. The most common place we see them is on short putts, but they can exist in all parts of the game. It also can affect all abilities of player – professional playing careers have been ended by them and plenty of Saturday morning medal rounds too!

It could be that you can’t trigger your driver takeaway, can’t hit a chip without a flinch in your hands at strike or can’t stop control the putter face from 2 feet. Most people believe that they begin with a crisis in confidence. I, however, look at it from a different perspective.

Yes your confidence is probably shot if you have the yips, but I can guarantee that the root cause is grounded in your technique. As the technique gets worse the shots get worse and gradually you start believing that you can’t hit the shot. From that point every time you leave yourself that same shot you will have the same stress/ fear reaction that causes the ‘yip’. It’s a really nasty cycle that can start to run through other parts of your game too.

One example, that I see all the time is in chipping. Everyone I have ever spoken to who ‘yips’ there chips approaches the ball too steeply with a leading edge that is digging the ground. The bounce of the club is not used and therefore the margin for error in your strike is minutely small often leading to thins and chunks. It’s not a ‘yip’ until you’ve let this problem grow and grow for a while until it starts to become a mental issue. My advice is simple – GET PROFESSIONAL COACHING before the technical issue gets too big. Once this has happened the natural ‘reprogramming’ of your confidence can begin.

What is the two-way miss and how do we avoid it?

If you are someone who watches quite a lot of golf on the TV you’ll often hear the commentators say that a player is trying to ‘take the left/right side of the course out of play’.  What this essentially means is that someone who curves the ball is trying to hit the ball with the same curve to remove the risk of missing it left and right, therefore a one-way miss. It seems like an amazing idea and you’d wonder why we all aren’t doing that!

A player that this gets highlighted with a lot is Dustin Johnson, who used to be a drawer of the ball but has developed a fade shape to give him more consistency over the past 8 or 9 years. Commentators will harp on about him never hitting the ball left anymore because he always curves it away from the left towards the right side of the fairway. Here’s some news though, a one-way miss doesn’t exist. It’s actually just another completely unachievable ideology that we’re led to believe is possible in golf!

See the diagram below of all of Dustin Johnson’s competitive drives in a 5 year period (courtesy of Golf Stats Pro):

What becomes evident is that there is a very equal spread. Therefore, by hitting his fade shape he has become no less likely to hit it left. He may not ‘hook’ it or curve it to the left but he could still ‘pull’ it left. This is the nature of golf and it’s very important to understand this fact.

If you draw the ball you can also hit a push shot, meaning you can still hit it both ways. If you fade the ball you can also hit it left with a pull, again meaning you have a two-way miss. The real challenge is knowing how to stop it going left or right when you really need it, for example, if there is a lake to the right and you can’t risk hitting a slice into it.

Now think about your own game. Which way do you tend to curve the ball? Do you ALWAYS hit it that way or does it vary? In a round of golf do you ever hit every drive the same into the middle of the fairway? Do you hit some random shots where the ball spins the complete opposite way to normal?

One final observation of the shot diagram above ….. Look how dense the map still is 20-25 yards off the middle of the fairway!

Tour players are really good, but not perfect!

My tip for club golfers is as follows. Monitor every drive you hit over the course of 5-10 rounds and keep note of whether the ball had draw, fade or straight spin on it and if it finished left, right or straight. By the end of 5 rounds you’ll have 70 (ish) shots that will show a dominant ball flight. You’ll see how consistent you are with that flight and then either work to improve it (if you feel it’s necessary) or play with that flight.

 

Lee Wilson, June 2021

How much does the weather affect your golf ball?

Humidity, air pressure and temperature

Firstly, let’s think about three elements of our weather and how they impact our game – humidity, air pressure and temperature.

Humidity doesn’t really affect the ball. A change from 10% to 90% humidity affects a ball distance by just 1 yard on a 6-iron (for a Tour player).

Similarly, air pressure has a small effect so isn’t something we’d need to be concerned about.

Temperature changes the ball distance the most. Going from 40 to 100 degrees (f) will increase a 6-iron by 8 yards and a driver by 9 yards. In connection with temperature, make sure you consider the bounce and roll on different ground conditions as the weather changes. For example, it’s been hot and dry the ground will be harder and bouncier.

Wind

The biggest factor you’ll have to contend with is the wind. Here’s a great visual of how a 140 yard shot is affected by different wind speeds (tail and head):

You’ll see the tailwind helps much less than a headwind hinders.

A tailwind will reduce the backspin on the ball, in turn flattening the landing angle creating more bounce and roll. It’s often quite difficult to judge how long the ball will stay in the air for and how much it will roll though.

A headwind will impart more backspin and lift onto the ball, creating a steeper landing angle and reduced bounce and roll. The more loft you have in your hand or the higher you hit the ball, the more it will reduce your overall distance. If you naturally create a lot of backspin, you should really take note of the wind strength as it will affect you more. Low trajectory hitters and low spin flights will be less affected.

For crosswinds, the impact depends on a few factors.

If you curve your ball (for example slice or hook), it will either curve with the wind or against the wind. If it curves with the wind, the ball will travel as though it has a tailwind. If you curve the ball against the wind, the impact will be like hitting the ball into a headwind.

Considering the above, if you know how to shape your ball you can really take advantage of a crosswind when you need a few extra yards.

The distance of a straight shot shouldn’t be affected very much by crosswinds, but the direction will be.

SUMMARY

  • Temperature will affect the distance a ball travels.
  • The wind has a huge impact not only on distance but also flight and direction.
  • Tailwind will increase the distance of your shot and controlling the landing can be tricky.
  • Headwind has a bigger affect than tailwind. It will significantly shorten your shot, especially if the wind is very strong.
  • Playing crosswinds very much depends on how you shape your shot.
  • The best players in the world learn how to adapt their ball flight to windy conditions.

TOP TIP!  Club up more than you think into the breeze!

 

Lee Wilson; August 2020

What should you expect from your putting?

Let’s start today by getting straight into the putting conversion percentages of PGA Tour players, who play on the best greens and dedicate more time than any to this area…

From 3 feet: 99.34%
4 feet: 91.43%
5 feet: 80.72%
6 feet: 70.21%
7 feet: 60.6%
8 feet: 52.86%
9 feet: 46.38%
10 feet: 41.25%
11-15 feet: 30.1%
15-20 feet: 18.3%
20-25 feet: 12.47%
25+ feet: 5.45%
3-putt avoidance >25 feet: 91.71%

Notice the biggest decreases are between 4 feet and 8 feet and the point at which they will make or miss breaks even at around 8 feet. The excellent 3 putt avoidance stat shows how often they putt the ball to within 3 or 4 feet from outside of 25 feet.

Here are some comparisons to Scratch and 18-20 handicappers:

This shows how important it is for higher handicap players to practice their long range putting as if you aren’t getting inside of 5 feet you are more likely to 3-putt than 2-putt. It is important to recognise that even the best miss from 3 or 4 feet so don’t beat yourself up if you do!

Top Tip:  Practice your long range lag putting and aim to get within 4 feet. You have a much better chance of keeping your 3-putts to a minimum!

Lee Wilson; August 2020

Pre-shot routines and why they are so important

Since my last email a lot has happened … Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship with an amazing performance against all odds, Jon Rahm destroyed everyone for 3 rounds at The Memorial and tested positive for COVID and had to withdraw and even I played in my first tournament of the year.

Starting with the PGA Championship, I noticed something very interesting in Phil Mickelson’s routine during the final round. Something that I believe can help everyone, it’s called … breathing. He was very noticeable taking at least 2 deep breathes during his routine and then a further deep breath after he had hit a shot. Why did he start doing this in the final round? Because despite his career success he was nervous, stressed, probably anxious and needed a release valve to slow his thoughts down and control himself.

Deep breathing is fantastic for controlling your heart rate, allowing you to think mindfully, make better decisions and improve your focus. It also helps your body to move smoothly and not tense up. All very useful when you make some bad swings or mistakes and you can feel yourself rushing through the motions rather than stepping back and slowing yourself down. We’ve all been there!

I decided to try and take a leaf out of Mickelson’s book when I played in my first tournament of the year a couple of weeks ago. I turned up quite early for my tee off time and felt relaxed, then went out to hit 25 warm up balls and my swing felt TERRIBLE!

I felt tight, uncomfortable, out of rhythm, really struggling to focus on the right swing cues and then my mind started to rush and worry that under the pressure of having a scorecard in hand it would be a complete nightmare. My plan B then was to add in some deep breathes behind the ball and slow down to give myself a chance and lower my expectations of myself to very low levels.

I then started birdie, birdie, birdie, par, par, birdie. I still didn’t feel good about my swing to be honest but I had managed to control my mind, decisions and anxiety and put together a really nice run. Now I was feeling more comfortable and relaxed and that’s when I started making mistakes. I became complacent in my routine and actually stopped my deep breathing temporarily. Suddenly I found myself making silly errors and hitting some really poor shots. It steadied again and my score was ok in the end but definitely a lesson learnt for me.

I’m not saying that deep breathing will help everyone, but I am saying that your unique routine should be consistent and repeatable under any circumstance and it may help in pressurised situations. It could be the dreaded first tee shot or when you start to rack up some bad holes in a row. You need to have something that you can go to to steady the ship and think clearly and mindfully. You also need to make sure that you practice your routine whether you are on the range, chipping area or golf course.

Maybe give it a try on your next round and let me know how you get on!

Lee Wilson; June 2021