What is Golf Digest thinking?

golfdigest1Paulina Gretzky’s fetching pose on the cover of Golf Digest magazine’s fitness issue is causing such an uproar that the publisher’s hand must be awfully blistered from all the high fives.

Frowners are terribly upset that the slick golf magazine didn’t instead feature a female golfer from the LPGA. How dare the magazine betray its sport, the profession, and its own duty to support and promote the wounded game of golf?

Maybe it is just me, but I didn’t realize Golf Digest is a journalistic publication whose job is to preach to the choir and only the choir. The magazine is a commercial powerhouse. Golf is hurting, make no mistake, which means subscriptions may be hurting, as well (my guess). What better way to spread the word than reaching outside of your readership to fresh blood?

The true genius of this cover is Paulina’s connection to hockey and all their fans, who already have the start of darn good golf swings. “Step off the ice and go green this spring!” is the subliminal message. “Put down your stick and pick up some steel and let’s do this!” Genius, I tell you.

Paulina’s engagement to pro golfer Dustin Johnson is another tie that rationalizes the cover. I can see how featuring them both on the fitness issue might have been a choice they considered. But they didn’t chicken out, they opted for the full monty controversy AKA publicity.

Anyone who has read any golf magazine over the years realizes that commercialism has taken over. No longer can you find cartoons, a humor page, or fiction by whimsical and sharp-witted writers. Equipment, ads, tips, ads, advertorial, ads, features, ads. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but I miss the old days, too.

I believe this move by Golf Digest to open up its readership is a positive step in growing the game. That’s how you do it.

What if, for instance, they had featured Tony Romo on the cover, who also has a strong connection to golf and to fitness? Would the PGA Tour be whining that the magazine didn’t feature Jason Dufner instead?

And just as a side note: I still think the LPGA needs to get its marketing act together. Some of their ads are much better, but if you’re excited by their ads and then tune in to a telecast, well, welcome to Snoozeville. I’ve said for years on this blog that the LPGA needs to hire a storyteller and build some drama, personas, and rivalries. No one on the LPGA even spits or bends a putter shaft over their head. Who wants to watch that?

I just don’t see a down side to this. Everyone wins, everyone is getting attention, the magazine is getting read, and golf is in the headlines. Rock on.

One little cautionary message, however. Back in the late 1980s, Golf Illustrated magazine featured me with Hank Haney on its cover. Hank’s doing all right today, the magazine went through some therapy and is on its way back, I think, but look what’s happened to me. Just sayin’.

 

My Top 9 Golf Tips (That Work Year After Year)

Over the past (add double digit here) years, I’ve accumulated a lot of golf tips.  Most of them languish in dusty binders up on a bookshelf somewhere, just above my Zebra putter.

Elsewhere, however, tucked in a pocket of my golf bag with this season’s new golf glove and brush-style tees, are a few tips that, year to year, have made a difference.  They might not be gimmicky or flashy or even attributed to a golf legend—they just whispered the right things in my ear so my brain listened and spread the word to my ignorant muscles. Maybe they’ll help you too.

(By the way, I’m talking to righties here.  If you’re a lefty, I think you know what to do.)

1. Eliminate the Wrists
This one is more a thought and feeling than a reality (but don’t tell your brain).  Whenever I find myself throwing the club from the top, slicing it or pulling it, this tip has straightened out shots of all kinds.  It’s simple—take the club back to about  ¾ without breaking your left wrist, then swing down the same way.  I used to picture a splint strapped on top of my wrist, now I just imagine the swing of Steve Stricker—he does it for real.

2. Chip Low
This one is so simple it is nearly stupid.  It is also a philosophy, not a reality.  For me, it works like a charm and eliminates all but the two-beer chilli-dip.  The thought is to hit your chips as low as you possibly can.  Don’t think about height or distance—let the club and your feel take care of those—just try to hit low with no hands, follow through low, and watch the ball pop up and sail on line.

3. Show Your Back
Yes, I have a problem coming over the top. To get my lower body working first, I take my backswing and hold my back to the target as long as possible. This really works, especially early in the season.

4. Balance Boost
I had this tip a long time ago, but I was elated to hear it from Nick Faldo on TV.  It is one amazing tip for a duffer like me.  I can really get the feeling of proper balance by practicing on downhill lies, so my weight doesn’t fall back. I still can’t hit downhill lies, but I don’t fall down on flat lies anymore.

5. Kneed It
That little phrase sticks in my mind and helps remember this tip. I’m no Golden Bear, so when I lift my left heel on the backswing and my knee goes back, I’m off balance and swaying.  So, I focus on maintaining a gap between my knees – as if a volley ball is between them.  If I can be conscious of this, it even helps my putting.

6. Ridiculously Light Grip
We all know this one, but it really works for me.  Driver to putter, feeling that light grip helps me on the downswing to help the club search on its own to get where I want it to go.  I just let it happen.

7. Flatten in Sand
Slide the club under a dollar-size slice of sand is the great tip we all know.  Key to accomplishing this (without even thinking about it) is to flatten the swing in bunker splash shots—and follow through.  I repeat, follow through. When I go up to my ball on the green, I see a dollar bill beneath it.  I swear. And it’s not mine :)

8. Distance Control
This is easier said than done for me, but it really helps me keep my tempo consistent.  I try to control distance with trajectory, not swing speed or umph.  A high ball goes farther, a low shot sails shorter with more run.  Before I start my swing, I decide where my follow through will finish—waist (shorter), shoulder (medium), over head (long).  This especially helps me feel as though I know what I’m doing—and the results reinforce it…mostly.

9. Driving Ranges Lie to Me
I used to spend literally hours most days pounding shots off plasti-grass mats, thinking how savvy I was spending a whole session on pitches and chips.  Then I’d get to the course and have a “bad day” hitting fat, shanking irons, and finding that I have no real good shots to visualize.  Plus I had elbow problems.  Are driving ranges hazardous to my golf?  Yes.  But I found a remedy.  Tees.  Now, I tee up everything.  I have a full set of those hollow rubber tees for nearly every club in the bag.  Goal:  don’t hit the mat.  Now, I can actually feel where the ball hits the clubface.  Be careful at these venues and be wary of the truth of their hard, well-worn golf balls.  One sure supplement to this kind of practice is to have a knowledgeable witness—a PGA teaching pro.

Hope this helps.   For me, the consequences of my score are much more enjoyable when I play golf with a plan.

Hunter Mahan in the Hunt

I have been a huge fan of Hunter Mahan. He is the most accomplished player most ignored by the media.

Tonight I’m watching the match play championship between Hunter and Gmac…and Hunter is not closing the deal. He’s had putts and shots to put himself in position to win and he can’t come through. I don’t yet know who will win…but I’m doubtful Hunter will, because Gmac has that closer magic.

Very disappointing.  I’m beginning to deduce that Hunter is a good player but not a great one. He could indeed be a great player if he had that magical closer talent. I am not seeing it. In fact, he almost folds.

Perhaps I’m spoiled by Tiger’s past play, where nearly every meaningful shot was made and ever crucial putt was somehow sunk.

Still, Hunter has an amazing record. It would be legendary if were truly a closer. And I guess he is not.  Not yet.

I truly hope he can find something inside that gives him the feel to pull off the winners.

 

My Magic Bullet Putting Tip

gimmicksNo more crazy gimmicks.

I have discovered a magical putting tip that has held up for dozens of hours so far. It may not be what you need, but it is certainly the key I have been searching for.

I will first begin at the beginning. I started my focus on putting by laying aside my brand new putter that totally betrayed me last season. I instead chose the old Ping Zing I had loved from the late ’80s until something happened around the turn of the century. It’s bronze and I cleaned it up spectacularly and slid on a slightly oversized Winn grip.

Next, I simplified my stroke. One, two. One, two. One, two. You get the idea. No Snedeker pop stroke for me. One, two. Virtually the same length back as forward. I don’t really think about it, except that I don’t want to go too far back or I’ll decelerate on the forward stroke. Every once in a while, for some reason, I feel my right hand playing in to the forward stroke. This doesn’t seem to hurt accuracy, but I don’t even think about it.

Even though pro teachers say that to improve putting one should focus on speed, not line, my problem is line. My speed has always been good. Furthermore, my problem isn’t on seeing the line–oh, I see it fine from behind the ball–it’s on setting up to the line and seeing it sideways.

After observing myself for many putts, I realized that I had the same success whether my feet were too far open or too far closed. My real problem was where my toes were pointing. That would change where the ball was in my stance. Not good for me.

How to clean this up?  It was like magic.

Since I could aim the putter accurately on my line, why couldn’t I also aim my feet? But how?

Then it dawned on me:  line my feet up parallel to my putter face. If the putter was aimed correctly, then just aim my feet correctly. Then my eyes, shoulders, hips and knees had a better chance of synergy.

And it worked. It still works. This has been all indoors here in Virginia, so I can’t wait to get out on the putting green.

Again, I have a putter I do not doubt, my stroke is under control, I have confidence in my choice of line, I can feel the distance to the hole, and now I trust my set up to make it all happen.

Summary: I started with fundamentals. I made certain my putting stroke was solid and I didn’t sway, ingraining a one-two tempo to my stroke, finding the right grip and the mental notion that makes it happen (I push away with the back of my left hand, and I lead the putter through with the back of my left hand, traditional right hand low grip, with thumbs parallel down the face of the wide grip).

It’s really odd the things that can improve your game. Two other things have helped me in my full swing: 1) picturing my hands and and wrists like Lee Trevino’s at the top of my swing, then 2) swinging like Steve Stricker with no wrist action at all. Neither of those things truly happen, but they are controls that work for me.

So I suggest, with any swing improvement you are trying to make, be as visual and position-oriented as you can. It is a lot easier to picture Lee Trevino’s swing in my mind than to force my own hands into someplace around my head.

Good luck this season.  And keep it fun and fast.

 

 

The New Face of Golf

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I’ve heard people write and talk about the declining popularity of golf. Some think the rules are too daunting. Others think our society has grown lazy. Still others believe it has become too expensive in money and time for regular folks.

I don’t know the truth about any of that, but I doubt the validity of them all. I watch TV and I play at my local public track with seven-year-old clubs. I compare that to what I saw and experienced in the ’70s and ’80s.

I think golf has experienced a correction. It is now perceived in a different way. All the various elements that made up the game–its players, celebrities, media producers, writers, thinking, language, storytelling–have all recast themselves and come together in synergy that represents the new identity of today’s golf.

Golf is not as fashionable anymore for execs to hit the course, bond, and do business. Now the execs are younger, don’t smoke cigars, can’t afford or aspire to country clubs, or they own one. They’d rather do business at Starbucks or via Skype.

It’s also not as much a family thing to go to the mini-golf venues with the kids or an outing to the driving range, not with a smart TV and Xbox at home. It’s a culture shift, a change in lifestyle priorities.

It seems as though we’ve blinked, and when our eyes refocused the golf world looked and felt different. Golf isn’t cool or relevant for everyday people now, and it seems more remote. Golf writers and media programs perpetrate the new look by focusing more on expectations and what could be, rather than what is and what’s real.

For instance, TV commentators love the Waste Management 16th hole and its crazy atmosphere of yelling and screaming and drinking. There is now talk of expanding it to the 17th hole, as well. Maybe that’s entertainment for some, but I don’t think it will lure anyone to the true heart of the game of golf.

It used to be, too, that we actually enjoyed a plethora of golf literature–humor in every golf and mainstream magazine from The New Yorker to Reader’s Digest to Golf Magazine (I know, I sold to them), people pieces, family-oriented pieces, novels. Golf appeared in films, TV shows and commercials, comedy routines, and was a positive character statement for U.S. presidents  Most of all that is gone from our culture and certainly not of pertinent interest.

The fans and their lives are no longer a focus of these golf publications in general. They aren’t interested in bringing golf to all facets of our lives. They are mostly now concerned with boosting the industry and turning readers into customers.

Plus, the professional golfers themselves have become too elite for everyday folks to relate to. They have become a sterotype of wealth. Arnie and Jack and Lee and Ray and Gary and Chi-Chi and Hubert and Johnny and Watson and the gang were approachable and seemed real.

Today, there’s little of that. Today, there is a template. The players are stiff and remote, and only bad boys like Feherty can catch the players off-guard and reveal a bit of their humanity. Pro golf used to feel like a club, now it feels like a set and a stage and a play for the rich.

If golf is declining in popularity, that, I believe, is part of the answer.

In my next installment, I’ll write a rant on golf TV commentators and producers and how they are mindlessly tearing apart the brands of the PGA and LPGA tours.

______________

by Tim Schoch (shock)

Photo Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.