Eye On The Ball

It’s one of the simplest mantras in all of sports:  keep your eye on the ball.

Every sport that involves hitting a ball (or even a puck) preaches the same, mundane, basic-yet-overlooked idea of actually looking at the object you’re striking.

After 15 years of baseball and 10 years of golf I was making this same mistake just a couple weeks ago.  My swing felt fine.  I wasn’t making my usual mistake of swinging too  hard (baseball!) and I felt calm.  I wasn’t frustrated at my mistakes and kept a cool head.

Usually these things add up to me playing a solid round of golf.  But not this day.

I was still inconsistent with my woods and irons (thankfully my putting was decent that day).  My dad actually made a suggestion to me that, truthfully, I initially brushed off.

He told me to keep my eye on the ball.  Actually, to be more specific, he told me to pick a dimple on the back of the ball and focus just on that dimple.  Like I said I initially brushed this off.  How would I, a seasoned baseball player and golfer, make such a novice mistake?

Lo-and-behold a couple holes later his words echoed in my mind as I set up my ball and tee on the tee box.  My next drive was smashed- 300 yards with a slight draw right down the middle of the fairway.

Dad- why do you always have to be right?!

I played the next 8 or 9 holes like a new golfer.  This simple, laughably basic cue had taken my round to another level.

So next time you’re spraying all over the course think of the simplest cue of them all- keep your eye on the ball.

Golf In The Rain?

You may think I’m crazy, but I’m not!

No I don’t golf in the rain.  If you do you’re crazy.

And I do mean rain, not a sprinkle or off and on showers.  Here in Southern California we don’t get true rain all that often, but we do get it.  And when we do, I don’t golf.

The only time I’ve joyfully golfed in the rain was during a brief trip to Ireland where I had only a day to get a round in.  The weather was terrible but I was so thankful to be playing in Ireland and it was still so beautiful, that I had a wonderful time.

So there- Ireland is the only exception.

So what if you’re not in Ireland and it rains?  This happened to me recently.  About a month ago I was all set to hit my local country club when we had  a brief (they’re almost always very brief) storm roll through, just enough to cancel my round.

Mixed feelings of disappointment and gratitude set in.

The disappointment is obvious.  The gratitude is obvious too (if you live in Socal)- we need rain bad.

So now I’m at home, enjoying the heavenly white noise that is rain on a rooftop, not golfing.

And then it hits me…

My kids have a gaming system called a Wii.  The Wii is unique because you play with your body, not a controller.  You hold a remote that senses your motions so you can bowl, play tennis, shoot basketballs and, yes, play golf.

Now what follows is kind of a little secret.  I turned on the Wii and started hitting the virtual links.

Of course I was terrible at first, but it was clear that there is some integrity to the way the game plays.  In a microscopic, distorted albeit consistent way, the game does mirror golf.

Swing inside out and you hook the ball.  Swing outside and you slice it.

Even the angle of your swing affects the ball as you use different clubs.

I played once and absolutely bombed.  A couple days later I played again and also bombed.  A couple days  later I played and made some decent shots, hit some greens and made a few putts.

The next week I played and felt I had developed a feel for this silly game that was there for me in the rain.  And that’s the secret…

I’ve kept playing this silly game a couple times per week.

It’s certainly not helpful to my real golf game.  In Wii I find it easier to swing with one arm and it has absolutely nothing to do with hips or balance at all.  But that’s almost why I can play it without it effecting my actual golf game- it’s just so different.

I’ve continued to play and enjoy it!  I can play 18 holes in 20 minutes or less.   The downside is there is only one course and I feel I’ve begun to reach a bit of a plateau.  My best round is -14 (a 58 I believe) and I tend to average about -9 or -10.

The point of all this is to say don’t be afraid to try something new when life cancels your weekly game of golf.  Whether it’s on the Wii, the computer or even miniature golf, know that there are other ways to celebrate and enjoy the great game when you can’t actual get out on a course.

And if you’re that embarrassed to try these things, keep it a secret, like me.

This post is brought to you by one of our sponsors, Plumber Costa Mesa.

Thank you for your support and love of golf!

A Pleasant Walk

Many how ridicule or poke fun at the wonderful game of golf will refer to it as nothing more than an expensive walk.

There certainly is truth to the statement, and I wager the worse one is at the game of golf the more expensive a walk it becomes.  With that being said I still don’t care for the phrase and think it unfair.

Sure, golf seems more expensive the worse you are at it and, yes, you can walk in the park for free.  But part of the beauty of golf is the scope of the courses, the land covered and kept private, for your enjoyment.

Parks can certainly be beautiful but they are often full of other people sharing your view, your sidewalk or your bench.  And while parks do vary tremendously in size and beauty there are plenty of shabby parks to go around, especially in urban areas.  If you live in a highly populated county or city the parks don’t typically provide much solace.  The sound of cars buzzing down the road is nearly impossible to escape, as are views of power lines.

While golf courses aren’t universally exempted from these urban distractions they do on average succeed much more often at surrounding one’s self in nature.  Part of golfs success in this matter, especially in urban areas, is that the game itself motivates people to drive much further out of town than they would to go to a park.

People are willing to make a trip, to organize an entire day, around the game of golf, and to their benefit.  The extra effort, the extra half hour of driving is often enough to provide some real, genuine sanctuary from the sound of rubber on cement, buzzing power lines and honking horns.  And I’d like to point out that that same sanctuary is available to golf gurus and beginners alike!

You see, you aren’t just paying for a walk or an opportunity to shank a ball into a group of trees when you pay for a round of golf.  You’re paying for tranquility, for rare experiences of nature and an escape from the worries and troubles that plague us everyday.

No matter where you live you will likely see birds and animals on a golf course you wouldn’t other wise see.  Whether it’s a mountain lion or something as common as a stork, you open yourself up to new experiences and fleeting glimpses of beauty.

On a more nerve-racking note, take this video of a golfer playing in Florida:

How incredible!  These men literally encountered a giant dinosaur on their golf course!  And while that may not exactly motivate you to hit the links it serves as  a profound testament to the wonders possible on a golf course.

So next time you hear some ridicule the great game of golf as nothing more than an expensive walk, remind them of all the other benefits of the game of golf, other than actually golfing.

They might not realize they don’t have to drive 4 hours to escape the sound of cars and horns and power lines.  They likely are only 20-30 minutes away from the sanctuary of a beautiful, pristine golf course.

Tap, Tap, Tap-a-Roo

It’s all about the short game.

At least some people say that.  Probably old people, who have no long game to speak of.

But, there’s truth in what they say.  Sure, it doesn’t hurt to hit the ball 300 yards with a small draw.  That doesn’t hurt at all.  But it’s all for naught if you can’t get the ball in the cup.

When I say short game I do mean putting.  Chipping is a part of short game but for the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on putting.

Chipping is much too infuriating on its own and deserves an entire post or two as it is.

Back to the short game- the REAL short game.

Putting is an art.  And those very, very few men who are great putters are artists.

A good putter doesn’t just see the green, the cup and the ball.  He sees where the ball will be if he hits it, this hard, a little harder, or a little softer.  Like all great masters of any skill execution becomes not just a matter of judgment and reason, but of intuition.  All the greats have it.

It’s an ability to see the future, almost.  Many great masters speak of it, including Tiger Woods.

He speaks about being so in tune with his body, his equipment and his environment that he isn’t swinging at a golf ball and hoping it goes somewhere like the rest of us do.  Tiger is willing the ball here or there.  And for the greats the battle is not to keep their front heel down throughout their back swing, or to keep their chin down, or to keep their eye on the ball, or some other mechanical issue.

The battle of the greats is within, especially when it comes to putting.  It’s a battle for clarity of mind, for confidence, for belief, for courage in the face of fear.  It’s a steadiness amidst the blowing wind, yelling fans and undulating greens.  And when all is centered, empty, focused, the ball is buried in the darkness.

Yes, technique, mechanics and judgment are vehemently important and they’re the first to give when focus is lost.  But for the greats, nothing is further from mind.  They aren’t thinking about this or that technical minutiae, they not thinking.  They’re doing.

As the great Yoda says,  “There is no try.  There is only do.”

For the rest of us we might have a few times in our entire life where we’re lucky to play 9 holes in  the “zone”, but even then it’s whispy and insubstantial compared to Woods and Mickelson.  But boy is it fun when you’re there.

A newfound confidence in your ability surges, obstacles become opportunities and you have more than an extra pep in your step.

And that’s what keeps us all coming back.  Is golf hard?  Frustrating? Expensive?  Absolutely.

But it’s those rare, fleeting moments when square the ball up, read a green and here that ever-so-rewarding- “clunk”!

That sound will always have me coming back.

It’s all in the hips

The golf swing.

It’s one of the most difficult things to master in all of sports.  Sure, kicking a soccer ball can be hard (I guess) and getting a basketball through a basketball hoop is harder than it seems (despite the ball being the same shape as the hoop).

But few things are as difficult as hitting a golf ball straight and far.

Many can hit it straight.  If you’ve ever played golf you’ve seen quite a few older men and women who have little to no problem hitting the ball straight, most of them (there are exceptions of course).  If you swing conservatively enough it isn’t difficult at all to keep the ball straight off the tee.  The catch is that such an approach might necessitate about 8 or 9 shots per hole, which is far from ideal.

And many can hit the ball fairly far.  Again, if you’ve ever played a round of golf or been to the driving range you’ve seen a strapping young lad step up to the tee and confidently swing with all his might, eyes closed as often as not, and the ball (assuming he makes contact) leaves the tee box with impressive velocity.  Of course, it sliced practically 90 degrees to the right, but hats off to the lad for delivering such a wallop!

Of course neither of these approaches are ideal and both are very common, hence the difficulty of the golf swing.  Combining a straight yet powerful stroke is the life-long pursuit of many a golfer- beginner, amateur and expert alike.

20 years or so into my pursuit of this holy grail and I’m still far from where I once dreamed I’d be.  But, to my enjoyment, I understand my body and swing much more than I used to.  The result is that I’m more aware of my shortcomings, tendencies and bad habits and can thus compensate for them.  Far from being an expert in the golf swing I’ve come to understand how to adjust things like where I aim and the type of club I use to help me get where I’d like to go.

For example, I tend to have a wicked “slice”.  A “slice” is when you strike the ball and, instead of traveling straight towards the target, it veers sharply away from you.  For a right-handed swing a slice would turn to the right of the target.  For a left-handed swing a slice would turn to the left of the target.

To compensate I #1 always aim to the left of where I want to go.   Being a right-handed golfer with a slice this helps me anticipate the error and correct.  I also #2 use a driver (from the tee box of course) that has a slight “draw” built into it’s construction.

A “draw”  is a ball that, when struck, turns over ever so slightly to the left of the target with some top spin.  The draw is every golfers dream because it’s still very straight and accurate but, with the top spin as opposed to backspin (like a normal shot has) the ball will roll much further upon landing.  I don’t naturally have a draw (very few do) so I have a club that is designed to help create a draw on one’s shot even if one’s swing isn’t disposed in such a way.

This is of course an imperfect solution but I’ll take every break I can get!

And here I’ll point out that often times the difference between a slice and a draw is not simply the path of the club (although that contributes greatly) but the placement of one’s hips when the club face makes contact with the ball.

When one’s hips are too far back, i.e., over one’s back foot, the ball will almost always slice sharply to the right of the target (speaking in terms of a right-handed golfer).  When one’s hips are too far forward the ball will almost always “hook”- the opposite of a slice and just as sharp.

Assuming one can stay balanced, with one’s weight in the center of one’s feet when the club-face strikes the ball, the ball should go rather straightly towards the target.  Add to this scenario a club built to help with a draw and you can be in a wonderful situation.

I won’t get into club construction and how it influences the swing here in this post, but suffice it to say club choice is important to developing a golf swing.

Until next time, may your drives be straight and your putts strong!

How’s it going?

Welcome to The Game of Golf, the blog of a golf lover sharing his passion, frustration and memories of the game of golf.

I’ve got some wonderful stuff coming for everyone!  In the mean time, enjoy this jaw-dropping video of the greatest golfer to ever live.