In between majors, golf on TV can be prosaic. Lack of name players. Tournaments that mean little. Competition from other sports. Decreasing interest in golf throughout the country, except for the majors. I, for one, find it both entertaining and instructional watching golf on TV between majors. I often turn off the sound, read a book or Sunday paper, and occasionally look up to study swings, strategies,attitudes, and scores on the PGA, LPGA, and European tours. First, check out Mike Ritz, announcing for the Euro tour these days. He’s the Vin Scully of golf: dynamic, exciting, play by play, with great background info. This guy makes Frederick Anderson Hed look interesting. How about more Mike Ritz announcing for the PGA Tour? Then there’s Kevin Na. Other than John Daly, Na is golf’s biggest potential train-wreck. He badly screws up one shot and is guaranteed to screw up the next four, or more. You can see his mind twisting, churning, and gears grinding until metal hits metal and his teeth start gnashing. It’s the pace that showcases the mind. He gets real speedy over three-foot par putts, way out of his routine. For those few moments, he’s given up, the death knell for a professional golfer. Na’s a record holder around this behavior. He made a 16 on one venture into the woods last year at the Texas Open (only JD’s beat him with an 18 once). Take a look at what Na does during these meltdowns, and don’t play that way. Take a deep breath after a poor shot. Get back into your routine, your pace, your rhythm. Re-find your game. This year, Na got to +7 at the Texas Open and withdrew. Here are a few other tips I picked up watching golf this past weekend.
* When you’re short-sided in a greenside bunker, open the blade and take a half swing, striking the sand two inches behind the ball. Don’t be afraid of the half swing. It will get you out of the sand, without much distance, which is what you need for this shot. Harrison Frazer took too long of a backswing and went way long at the Texas Open.
* Speaking of sand, Derek Lamely’s ball was almost completely buried, just about unplayable and unidentifiable. In this case, you can move some sand to identify your ball, but you must replace the sand once ID’d. He then removed the ball, took a drop in the sand with a one stroke penalty and played his fourth shot from the sand, which wound up six inches from the cup, and a tap in bogey. Lesson: don’t play hero and try an impossible explosion. Take your medicine and cut your losses.
* Jiyai Shin used to win a lot of golf tournaments, and be very shy, unassuming, and rather homely. Now Jiyai, though still a great golfer, doesn’t win as much (with Yani Tseng around), but she’s no longer a wallflower. In other words, Jiyai rocks. She’s dyed her hair blond, wears sexy sunglasses and polka dot tops, along with white pants, white shoes, and a wonderful, open smile. And the girl still breaks par most of the time. Jiyai is one of my favorite LPGA players. You want to transform yourself: Take a look at Jiyai Shin from South Korea.
* Justin Leonard is starting to look like Sergio Garcia a short time ago: depressed. Smile, Justin. You’re playing golf for a living.
* Use the Texas wedge when possible off the green. This really works well when the grass is closely mown, insuring a smooth roll. The tricky part is figuring how much the fringe will affect the speed of the putt. The tendency is to overcook the putt, since your mind thinks the fringe will slow it appreciably. In my experience, it’s best to add a bit more length to the backswing but not that more more. It’s a feel shot. Practice it. The women often play this shot with great skill. Watch the LPGA.
* On approach shots from the rough, the ball spins less, so play short of the green and let the ball run up to the hole. Take one less club to compensate. This is especially true with hard, dry greens and fringes. I saw this shot played to perfection at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii, but can’t remember who played it.
* On long chips, where the Texas wedge may not be advisable, land the ball three feet onto the green and let it run to the hole. Choose the least loft needed to do this. I saw Annika demonstrate this on her short game segment on the Golf Channel with Martin Hall. Yes, I catch snippets of the GC during the week too.
* He was Champion Golfer of the Year in 2003, hasn’t won on the PGA tour since 2006, and missed more cuts since then than a scissors with a loose screw. But Ben Curtis won the Texas Open today, holding off two contenders with heart and solid play. The lesson: Don’t stop believing in yourself. You can play this game. You can improve, like Ben, who canned that multi-jointed swing he had a few years ago. Good job, Ben.
* Before a big approach over water, stretch the large back and shoulder muscles to ready them for the task ahead. Not sure how? Watch Jimin Kang, a gifted woman professional with a large frame and strong upper body muscles. I saw her really stretch those muscles with a club on her shoulders as she sized up the shot at the LOTTE. She cleared the water and landed softly on the green, a golfer’s dream result.
* Ai Miyazato is 5’2″, 116 lbs, and hits a driver 245 yards. She just won the LOTTE in Hawaii today. Ai is proof that you don’t hit a golf ball with your backswing. You could dance a waltz to her backswing but you better switch to West Coast Swing coming down. Her hands go high above her head at the top of her swing, creating a great arc and torque, unleashing her power with a dynamic hip turn and fast hands coming into impact. What holds it all together is her grip. It stays unified throughout, allowing for a controlled and powerful hit. Watch this lady. Learn from her. Smile like her. She obviously takes much pleasure in playing golf.
Watching some weekend golf on TV relaxes me after a week of challenging work. It doesn’t have to consume a whole day. In fact, a few minutes here and there, with the sound off, and observing for swing and course management techniques are enough to then leave the tournament and go do something nice with your significant other. Like taking a walk by the creek near our house today, Earth Day.