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Do Taller Golfers Have An Advantage?

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You would assume that height would be an advantage in golf. After all, taller golfers have the potential to hit the ball farther based simply on their limb length, mass, and overall body strength. Doesn’t a taller golfer’s ability to drive the ball as much as 30 yards or 50 yards past his shorter opponent give him a head start that can’t be overcome?

Well, there’s that well-known fable concerning the tortoise and the hare, and we all know how that turned out. A fast start is no guarantee of a fast finish. Maybe that’s the point that Harvey Penick was attempting to make in his own way when he said, “The woods are full of big hitters.” I think you would agree that there’s is no point in hitting the ball a long way off the tee if doesn’t end up in the fairway consistently.

Charlie Danielson 

After working with a number of tall players over the years, I had come to the conclusion that height was a not an advantage. In fact, with only a few exceptions, it seemed to be a distinct disadvantage.

In considering this subject, I thought of my former student Charlie Danielson, who was 6-feet 5-inches tall. I‘d worked with Charlie through his high school years up until the week that he left to play for Coach Mike Small at the University of Illinois, where he helped his team capture the NCAA Championship. In working with Charlie, I found that the plane of his swing could vary as much as a foot over the course of a single week. In this regard, he was not the exception to the rule, but more the norm when it came to be working with tall players.

The advantage that Charlie had was that he was fully capable of hitting good shots even when the plane of swing was less than ideal. He was like a great hitter in baseball; he would just adjust to the height of the pitch and make it work.

The Taller Player 

The logical assumption, as mentioned earlier, would be that a taller player would naturally hit the ball farther than a shorter player. And that distance would then allow the taller player to outperform the smaller player every time. That contention would certainly seem to be evidenced by looking at today’s modern wonder boys, Dustin Johnson at 6-feet 4-inches and Jordan Spieth at 6-feet 1-inch. Between them, they’ve have won a total of nine events and a total of $17 million on the PGA Tour in an eight-month period.

Table_2_Rod_Height

That said, I’ve found over the years that there are six areas where tall players typically struggle. These six areas constitute what I refer to as “The Taller Player Syndrome,” and these problems ultimately affect a player’s ability to score.

The Taller Player Syndrome 

No. 1: The Setup

The first disadvantage is related to setting up to the ball. How does it make sense that a player who is 6-feet 5-inches tall would use the same length irons as another player who is 5-feet 7-inches tall? And yet, realistically, the most an iron can extended is about an inch before it becomes unmanageable. In this case, there is a difference of 10 inches in height between these two players.

The taller player must then account for this difference in the setup, which becomes exceedingly awkward — especially with the shorter irons. This is in contrast to the shorter player, who only needs to bend slightly forward from the hips, place the sole of his club on the ground, and then make a swing.

No. 2: Lower Body Instability

The distance from the taller player’s feet to his knees, and the distance from his knees to his hips, is considerably greater than the shorter player. This lends itself to general instability in the lower body, especially where the length of the legs is disproportionate to the torso, ensuring poor balance throughout the swing.

No. 3: Excessive Knee-Drive

There is a universal tendency for taller players to develop excessive knee-drive on their downswing, causing them to finish with their backs in an arched position as if they were doing the side-ways limbo. This places excessive pressure on the lumbar region of the back.

No. 4: Lower Back Issues

In many cases, I’ve found that taller golfers have legs that are not equal in length, which creates setup and balance issues. There are three possible causes for the apparent disparity in leg length:

  1. The first possible cause can be genetic, meaning that the length of the leg bones on either side of the body are unequal, which is actually quite rare.
  2. The second possible cause, which is more common, occurs when the pelvis has been torqued in one direction or another. In a case where the pelvis has been twisted to the left, the right leg becomes functionally longer while the left becomes shorter. The reverse is true when the pelvis is twisted in the opposite direction.
  3. A third possible cause is when the stronger and less flexible muscles on one side of the body take over. This has the effect of pulling the lower spine out of alignment and in the process, pinching delicate nerves. which is the basis of pain. Those players with this condition will universally complain of periodic or chronic back pain, which often grows worse with age.

No. 5: Fluctuating Spine Angle

The arc of the swing revolves around the spine, which is inclined forward at address. This angle must be retained throughout the swing until the ball is struck, which makes for consistent shot-making. The required angle at address is considerably more acute for a taller player than a shorter player, making it more difficult to retain the angle through impact.

No. 6: Variable Backswing Plane

The most significant problem for the taller player, as mentioned earlier, is the variety of planes in which the club can be swung. The plane can vary from horizontal to vertical and everywhere else in between.

In contrast, a shorter player has, for the most part, only one swing plane. And invariably it’s the correct one, because it comes more naturally to them than the taller player. The inability to swing the club on the same plane on a consistent basis ultimately leads to variations in performance.

PGA Tour Money List 

Table_1_Rod_Height

I decided to look at the top-15 players on this year’s PGA Tour Money List to determine if there was a connection between the height of the players and how well they performed in terms of dollars earned between January 1 and August 31, 2017, as outlined above.

The study would hardly meet scientific guidelines, based on (1) limited sampling, (2) short time period, (3) lack of a control group.

The Study

The study was not designed to prove or disprove any one theory. I simply wanted to determine in rather short order if there was a plausible correlation between a player’s height and the number of dollars they earned on the PGA Tour.

The study would seem to suggest that in terms of dollars earned, height is neither an advantage or a disadvantage. That said, a broader study conducted in a purely scientific manner “might” reveal additional insight on the subject.

  • The numbers indicate that taller players on the PGA Tour do not hold an advantage over shorter players.
  • In the reverse, shorter players on the PGA Tour may hold a slight advantage over taller players based on their durability, making them less prone to injury.
  • The amount of money earned on an average by those players under 6-feet tall is virtually same as the amount of money earned by those players over 6-feet tall.
  • The numbers suggest that the composite height of “the perfect golfer” has increased from previous years to between 5-feet 11-inches and 6-feet tall.
  • The numbers are skewed in favor of taller players by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, who are both 6-feet 4-inches tall. Were these two players NOT among the top-15 money winners, the average height of the entire group would dip toward the shorter side.

Some additional findings included:

  • The shortest player in the group is Brian Harman at 5-feet 7-inches.
  • There are a six players who are below 6-feet, while there are nine players who are 6-feet or taller.
  • The average amount of money won by the six players under 6-feet was $5,714,844, while the average amount of money won by the nine players over 6-feet was $5,323,572.

In many other sports, height is an advantage and in some cases a requirement. In this regard, golf is unique. The height of the player is for the most part irrelevant when it comes to earning, and by extension, playing the game well.

Would these same findings apply to amateur golfers across the board, including those with handicaps from scratch to 30? That grouping would have to be studied on an independent basis to reach a valid conclusion, though a plausible assumption is that it would be similar.

In addition, this limited study indicates that height of “the perfect golfer” would seem to be increasing. This may well be due to the fact that the sport is attracting bigger and better athletes, who might have chosen to play another sport in prior generations, but were attracted by the fame and fortune that golf now offers its stars.

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Duhg

    Oct 16, 2017 at 10:26 am

    Being taller can be an advantage if you are a very good athlete. If you are a weekend warrior hack, then it probably works against you.

  2. 8thehardway

    Oct 14, 2017 at 7:24 am

    This article only makes sense if the author is 6’5″ and wants to convince his 5’8″ buddies to take fewer strokes.

  3. Jack Nash

    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Taller golfers? Like The Golden Bear?

  4. Tony Hadley

    Oct 13, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Facts don’t care about your feelings Maruman. Try reading “The Bell Curve.” It will help you out.

  5. Marcello

    Oct 13, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    At 6.6″, this sure makes sense to me.
    Does anyone have any references in FL for golf instructors who specifically teach tall golfers?

  6. Peter in Parker

    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:53 am

    I have noticed that heavier set folks can really drive the ball far. So if you are not tall…..eat eat eat !! Put on those carbs……..

  7. Cheesehead42

    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

    I am 6’9″ so I can probably offer a little bit of first-hand experience.

    1. Longer levers may allow for more club head speed but in my experience, the longer the club is moving, the more time there is for something to get off track. Imagine someone who is 5’10” swinging a 50″ driver versus myself swinging a 45″ driver. Yes, if everything is timed correctly you can generate some power/speed but you need a swing that is really dialed in to take full advantage of it.

    2. It is a pain in the a$$ to get fitted. Getting fitted sounds great as long as what they have in the cart fits you. After a lot of trial and error, I finally got into a set that truly fits me….. +2″ length and +6’5* upright on irons and wedges. There is not a fitting cart in the world with those options.

    3. We (tall people) bend over for everything (reaching down to open a door, ducking to walk through a door, bending down to hug your wife, etc) so we want to stand upright as much as possible. This includes with our swing. Coming out of the swing early has been something that I gave up trying to fix and decided to just adapt my swing to it. I play to a 9 now and feel that will go down but it has only gotten better after I decided to adapt a swing to my body rather than trying to emulate what YouTube tells me.

  8. Ardbeggar

    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:48 am

    I’m convinced! I’m going to start practising getting taller.

  9. larry

    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:26 am

    terrible read

  10. MB

    Oct 13, 2017 at 2:45 am

    This needs a good 25-year study and not just some short term earnings based off the Fedex Cup race.

    • Grizz

      Oct 13, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      I agree, a much longer study would be better. Nicklaus was what? 5’11” and could drive the ball with old equipment over 300 yards. His short game lacked though, but I think that is because he hit more greens and didn’t need the short game as much and didn’t practice like he should.

      I also think the study needs to include arm length and leg power and core strength. I’m 6 ft. But have the arms of the average length of someone 6’3-6’4. With that fulcrum/leverage and very strong and quick core, I’m long off the tee and fairly accurate. But my shorter mid-range 30-80 yards is the worst part of my game. It’s not the lack of practice but I think the long arms have trouble with getting into that rhythm.

  11. Mark

    Oct 12, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    May I suggest you search for an excellent discussion in the Clubmaking forum on fitting clubs for tall golfers. If you do bother to read this you will realise that your statement ” And yet, realistically, the most an iron can extended is about an inch before it becomes unmanageable.” reveals you to be someone who has limited club fitting experience.

  12. Casey Svejkovsky

    Oct 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    If you look at Phil Mickelson who’s 6’3″, he hits it all over the place and still finds a way to win tournaments. It all comes down to who has the best short game, at the end of the day, not who can hit it the straightest. Coaches now can find away around a disadvantage

  13. Bishop

    Oct 12, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    I feel height provides no advantage to a player. As a 5’6″ hack, I’m still able to consistently out-drive most of my playing partners, and all of them are taller than me.

    A couple of big-hitters who are short: Ben Hogan (who was 5’7″ and 135 pounds) and Rory (who’s also 5’7″).

    • M. Vegas

      Oct 12, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      5’6” is probably rounded up a lil…
      Not much luck with the cart girls, I’d also bet

      • Peeny

        Oct 13, 2017 at 2:46 am

        Who cares if you are taller or shorter!? This game is a game of adversity (for everyone).
        This article and these comments just seem to bash based on a physical trait that people have no control over, and has the same framework as racism. C’mon guys – just go out there and have some fun. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

    • Cornwall1888

      Oct 13, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Mcilroy is about 5’9″

      • Bishop

        Oct 13, 2017 at 3:05 pm

        Thanks for the correction, Cornwall. I had understood that he was shorter, but after researching, you’re definitely right.

  14. Kurt Guldi

    Oct 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Not a bad article. Though I feel like it is pretty generic. I’m a taller player at 6’3″. However, my arms and legs are short for my height-(72″ arm span, 30″ inseam”). So for example, the section referring to club length….. someone who is 10″ taller will also generally have longer arms which would offset the height difference somewhat. Also, someone like me who is taller but has shorter legs, doesn’t have the same issues with lower body instability as someone who has the typical leg length.

    • Mat

      Oct 12, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      Agreed. Let’s do the same calculation by Wingspan:Height ratio.

    • 2putttom

      Oct 12, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      Kurt your nick name shall be T Rex :~)

  15. Sour Grapes

    Oct 12, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    It is an advantage when it comes to length only IMO. Being taller or shorter will not help one make better contact with the ball, impart more or less feel, or result in more putts being sunk. However, If you take two golfers of similar abilities, the taller golfer will hit longer drives and will be 1-2 clubs longer throughout the bag, which does correlate to a distinct advantage to me.

    You do not see short guys like Brian Harmon winning on the longer PGA Tour courses that stretch to 7500 plus yards.

  16. Matt

    Oct 12, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Gotta love golf. Still to this day the most “egalitarian” sport physically. Which is why golfers are the most talented athletes on Earth. We have basically the entire world population to compete against. Those other sports have about 3% of the population to contend with. The reason is so much force in a golf shot comes from the player’s athletic ability to deliver a large spring into the back of the ball. If coordinated enough a relatively “weak” athlete like Justin Thomas (I am comparing him to what is required to even be on the gridiron or baseball diamond), can leverage a golf club and hit the ball further than those much larger. Its athleticism to use a golf club properly, but the club is a huge equalizer. A baseball bat does not flex much, its basically brute force with all the energy coming purely from the body. Football and basketball have obvious physical limitations, with basketball so ridiculous is almost funny – literally freaks of nature. How many 6’9″ people do you see, you could literally go weeks in a big city and not spot one, not to mention 7′ or something).

  17. Tommy

    Oct 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve said all this for years. With their short irons, taller players can have trouble even reaching the ball properly. Look at Keegan Bradley, how he’s all bent over and contorted to reach it properly. It’s very tough to fit a taller person with club length…almost impossible for someone with longer legs.

    • C

      Oct 12, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      Pretty sure Keegan is properly fit into his clubs. That’s just his stance and swing.

    • Scott

      Oct 13, 2017 at 10:05 am

      I will say the difficultly in fitting taller amateur players is the day to day variation in the address position which causes a number of the items discussed in the article. I am about 6′ 1″ or so with a very long wing span. I have difficultly maintaining what I feel is a proper address on a day to day basis. Just something that needs to be worked through

  18. Greg V

    Oct 12, 2017 at 11:49 am

    In the days of persimmon, it was helpful to be “closer to your work.” Look at players such as Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw. Even Jack Nicklaus was only 5′ 10″. Now that 460 cc drivers are the norm, and good lightweight graphite shafts make longer clubs more feasible, golfers up to 6’2″ or 6’3″ are still plenty close to their work.

    • Bruce Ferguson

      Oct 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      I’m 6’3″. As the the argument of longer limbs giving an advantage, I can’t say. I can say that, in my experience, a big reason I don’t play blade-sized irons is that they look so tiny from my height. If I were 5’9″ or shorter, I might be more confident playing a compact iron head. I might also fit better in some of those sports cars I fancy . . .

  19. Ryan

    Oct 12, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Average height of an American male is 5’9”. Only Brian Harmon is shorter. Everyone else is average or above… feels like a correlation to me.

    • C

      Oct 12, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      Came here to say this.

    • Dan

      Oct 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      I was going to pint this exact thing out. The average American male is 5’9″ now, and back when I was a kid it was 5’7″, that was when Jack playing so even then he was 3″ above the norm. I think there is no doubt height is an advantage, it’s hard to ignore physics and those extra lever lengths help. Two people of exactly the same intrinsic skill, will perform differently because of the physics involved if they are different in height, or other dimension. Comparing the top golfers with average height shows that most are above average, and if you look at women’s golf this evidence becomes even more profound.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Honda Classic

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It’s off to Florida this week for the Honda Classic, as the lead up to the year’s first major continues. PGA National has been the permanent home of this event since 2007, and it has proved to be one of the most demanding courses on Tour since then. The golf course measures just under 7,200 yards, but it is the often blustery conditions combined with the copious amount of water hazards that make this event a challenge. There is also the added factor of “The Bear Trap,” a daunting stretch of holes (Nos. 15-17) that are arguably the most difficult run of holes we will see all year on the PGA Tour.

Ball strikers have excelled here in the past, with Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy all boasting fine records at PGA National. The par-70 golf course contains six long Par 4’s that measure over 450 yards, and players will be hoping that the wind isn’t too strong — when it does blow here, the course can turn into a brute. Last year, Rickie Fowler posted 12-under par to win the event by four strokes over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland. It was the first time in the last five years that the winning score reached double digits.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rickie Fowler 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 10/1
  • Justin Thomas 11/1
  • Sergio Garcia 18/1
  • Tyrrell Hatton 28/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 30/1
  • Gary Woodland 30/1

Previous champions Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are sure to be popular picks this week, but it’s Justin Thomas (11/1, DK Price $11,300) who I feel offers slightly more value out of the front runners. Thomas has begun the year well, finishing in the top-25 in all four events he has played. The numbers show that his game is getting better all the time. His iron play has steadily improved, picking up more Strokes for Approaching the Green week by week. Last week he gained six strokes approaching the green at the Genesis Open, which was fourth in the field.

At the ball strikers’ paradise, Thomas fans will be glad to know that he ranks fourth in the field for Ball Striking over his last 12 rounds. He is also ranked fourth for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and second in Strokes Gained Total. Comparatively, neither Fowler nor McIlroy rank inside the top-50 for ball striking and the top-40 for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over the same period.

Thomas’ accuracy on his approaches has been sensational lately. He leads the field in Proximity to the Hole for his past 12 rounds, and on a golf course that contains many long par 4’s it should play into Justin’s hands, as he’s been on fire recently with his long irons. He is third in the field for Proximity on Approaches Between 175-200 yards, and second in the field for Approaches Over 200 yards in his last 12 rounds. Thomas has a mixed record at PGA National, with a T3 finish wedged in between two missed cuts, but I like the way his game has been steadily improving as the season has progressed. It feels like it’s time for the current PGA Champion to notch his first win of the year.

On a golf course where ball striking is so important, Chesson Hadley (55/1, DK Price $7,700) caught my eye immediately. The North Carolina native has been in inspired form so far in this wraparound season with four finishes already in the top-5. The way he is currently striking the ball, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see him get his fifth this week. Hadley is No. 1 in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Ball Striking, while he is No. 2 for Strokes Gained Total over his last 24 rounds.

Having taken last week off, Hadley returns to a golf course where he has finished in the Top-25 twice in his three visits. Yet there is a sense that this year he’ll be aiming even higher than that. Chesson is fifth in this field for Proximity to the Hole from 175-200 yards and fourth overall over the past 24 rounds. With that level of accuracy on such a tricky golf course, Hadley will be confident of putting himself in position to claim win No. 2.

My next pick was a slow sell, but with the number so high I couldn’t leave him out. Adam Scott (55/1, DK Price $7,700) has been struggling for some time now. He has slipped out of the World’s Top-50, changed his putter from the short putter to the long putter and back again over the winter break, and he doesn’t have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the FedEx St. Jude Classic last summer. Despite all of this, I don’t feel Scott should be as high as 66/1 with some bookmakers on a golf course where he has excelled. To put it in perspective, Scott is the same price to win this week in a modest field as he is to win The Masters in April.

There are also signs that Scott blew off some of the rust last week in LA. The Australian was 12th in the field for Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, which indicates that things might slowly be coming around for a man who is known for his prodigious ball striking. Scott’s achilles heel is the flat stick, and I wouldn’t expect that to change this week. He’s been very poor on the greens for some time now, which must be incredibly frustrating for a man who gives himself so many looks at birdie. But average putters have performed well at PGA National in the past, where it seems that excellent ball striking is the key for having a good week. Scott won here in 2016, and on his two other visits to PGA National in the past five years he twice finished in the top-15. If he can continue to improve his iron play the way he has been, I feel he could forge his way into contention.

My long shot this week is Sean O’Hair (200/1, DK Price $6,800). The Texan hasn’t done much so far this year, but he is making cuts and he arrives at a course that seems to bring out the best in him. O’Hair has five top-25 finishes in his last seven appearances at PGA National, which includes a T11 at last year’s edition. At 200/1 and with a DK Price of as little as $6,800, there is little harm in taking a chance on him finding that form once more this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Justin Thomas 11/1, DK Price $11,300
  • Chesson Hadley 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Adam Scott 55/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Sean O’Hair 200/1, DK Price $6,800
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Opinion & Analysis

Don’t Leave Your Common Sense in Escrow Outside the Golf Course Parking Lot

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Disclaimer: Much of what follows is going to come off as elitist, harsh and downright mean spirited — a pro looking down from his ivory tower at all the worthless hacks and judging them. It is the opposite. The intent is to show how foolish WE golfers are, chasing around a white ball with a crooked stick and suspending all of the common sense we use in our every day lives.

Much of what follows is not just the bane of average golfers, but also low handicappers, tour players and even a former long-drive champion during his quest for the PGA Tour… and now, the Champions Tour. In other words, if WE take ourselves a bit less seriously and use a bit more common sense, we are going to have more fun and actually hit better golf shots. We will shoot lower scores.

FYI: All of the examples of nutbaggery to come are things I have actually witnessed. They’re not exaggerated for the sake of laughs.

It’s winter time and most of you poor souls are not enjoying the 70-degree temperatures I am in Southern California right now (see, you all hate me already… and it’s going to get worse). That gives us all time to assess our approach to golf. I am not talking course management or better focus; I am talking how WE golfers approach our successes and failures, which for many is more important than the aforementioned issues or the quality of our technique.

Why is it that golf turns normal, intelligent, successful and SANE people into deviant, ignorant failures that exhibit all of the tell-tale signs of insanity? I also forgot profane, whiny, hostile, weak-minded, weak-willed and childish. Not to mention stupid. Why do we seem to leave our common sense and sanity in escrow in a cloud outside the golf course parking lot… only to have it magically return the moment our car leaves the property after imposing extreme mental anguish on ourselves that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (don’t feel bad if you have to google this) would find extreme?

Smarter people than I have written books on this, but I think they missed a key factor. Clubs, balls, shoes, bags, gloves, tees, the grasses, especially the sand in the bunkers, the Gatorade they sell at the snack bar, hats, visors, over-logoed clothing, golf carts, etc., are all made with human kryptonite. Not enough to kill us, but just enough to make us act like children who didn’t get the latest fad toy for Christmas and react by throwing a hissy fit.

Bob Rotella has said golf is not a game of perfect, and although religious texts say man was made in God’s image, thinking we are perfect is blasphemous. We all play golf like we think there is an equivalent of a bowling 300. We expect to hit every drive 300 yards (the bowling perfect) with a three-yard draw… in the middle of the face… in the dead center of the fairway. All iron shots must be worked from the middle of the green toward the pin and compressed properly with shaft lean, ball-first contact and the perfect dollar-bill sized divot (and not too deep). Shots within 100 yards from any lie should be hit within gimme range, and all putts inside 20 feet must be holed.

We get these ideas from watching the best players in the world late on Sunday, where all of the above seem commonplace. We pay no attention to the fact that we are significantly worse than the guys who shot 76-76 and missed the cut. We still hold ourselves to that ridiculous standard.

  • Group 1: “Monte, you’re exaggerating. No one has those expectations.”
  • Group 2: ”Monte, I’m a type-A personality. I’m very competitive and hard on myself.”

To the first group, the following examples say different. And to the second group, I am one of you. It’s OK for me to want to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line, but at 50 years old and 40 pounds over weight, what would you say to me if I said, “I’m type-A and competitive and I want to dunk like Lebron James!” Oh yeah, and I want to copy Michael Jordan’s dunking style, Steph Curry’s shooting stroke and Pistol Pete’s passing and dribbling style.” That seems ridiculous, but switch those names to all-time greats in golf and WE have all been guilty of those aspirations.

I don’t know how to answer 18-handicaps who ask me if they should switch to blades so they can work the ball better and in both directions. The blunt a-hole in me wants to tell them, “Dude, just learn to hit the ball on the face somewhere,” but that’s what they read in the golf magazines. You’re supposed to work the ball from the middle of the green toward the pin, like Nicklaus. Well, the ball doesn’t curve as much now as it did in Nicklaus’ prime and most tour players only work the ball one way unless the circumstances don’t allow it. “And you’re not Jack Nicklaus.” Some joke about Jesus and Moses playing golf has that punch line.

Wouldn’t it be easier to get as proficient as possible at one shot when you have limited practice time, versus being less than mediocre on several different shots? This also applies to hitting shots around the greens 27 different ways, but don’t get me started…just buy my short game video. Hyperbole and shameless plug aside, this is a huge mistake average golfers make. They never settle on one way of doing things.

The day the first white TaylorMade adjustable driver was released, I played 9 holes behind a very nice elderly couple. He went to Harvard and she went to Stanford. He gets on the first tee and hits a big push. He walks to the cart, grabs his wrench and closes the club face. She tops her tee shot, gets the wrench and adds some loft. Out of morbid curiosity, I stayed behind them the entire front 9 and watched them adjust their clubs for every mishit shot. It took over 3 hours for a two-some. These are extremely nice, smart and successful people and look what golf did to them. Anyone calling this a rules violation, have a cocktail; you’re talking yourself even more seriously than they were. Old married couple out fooling around, big deal if they broke a rule. No tournament, not playing for money, they’re having fun. They had gimmies, mulligans and winter rules. Good for them.

This is an extreme example of a huge mistake that nearly 100 percent of golfers make; they believe the need for an adjustment after every bad shot… or worse, after every non-perfect shot. How many of you have done this both on the range and on the course?

”(Expletive), pushed that one, need to close the face. (Expletive), hit that one thin, need to hit down more on this one. (Expletive), hooked that one, need to hold off the release.”

I’ll ask people why they do this and the answer is often, “I’m trying to build a repeatable swing.”

Nice. Building repeatable swing by making 40 different swings during a range session or round of golf. That is insane and stupid, but WE have all done it. The lesson learned here is to just try and do better on the next one. You don’t want to make adjustments until you have the same miss several times in a row. As a secondary issue, what are the odds that you do all of the following?

  1.  Diagnose the exact swing fault that caused the bad shot
  2.  Come up with the proper fix
  3.  Implement that fix correctly in the middle of a round of golf with OB, two lakes, eight bunkers and three elephants buried in the green staring you in the face.

Another factor in this same vein, and again, WE have all been guilty of this: “I just had my worst round in three weeks. What I was doing to shoot my career low three times in row isn’t working any more. Where is my Golf Digest? I need a new tip.”

Don’t lie… everyone reading this article has done that. EVERYONE! Improvement in golf is as far from linear as is mathematically possible. I have never heard a golfer chalk a high score up to a “bad day.” It’s always a technique problem, so there is a visceral need to try something different. “It’s not working anymore. I think I need to do the Dustin Johnson left wrist, the Sergio pull-down lag, the Justin Thomas downswing hip turn, the Brooks Koepka restricted-backswing hip turn and the Jordan Spieth and Jamie Sadllowski bent left elbow… with a little Tiger Woods 2000 left-knee snap when I need some extra power.” OK, maybe it’s a small bit of exaggeration that someone would try all of these, but I have heard multiple people regale of putting 2-3 of those moves in after a bad round that didn’t mesh with their downtrending index.

An 8-handicap comes to me for his first lesson. He had shot in the 70’s four of his last five rounds and shot a career best in the last of the five. All of the sudden, those friendly slight mishits that rhyme with the place where we keep our money show up. First a few here and there and then literally every shot. He shows up and shanks 10 wedges in a row and is literally ready to cry. I said, “Go home, take this week off and come back… and what’s your favorite beer?”

He comes back the next week, pulls a club and goes to hit one. I tell him to have a seat. I hand him a beer and we talk football for 15 minutes. Then I pull out my iPad and show him exactly why he is hitting shanks. I tell him one setup issue and one intent change and ask him to go hit one. It was slightly on the heel, but not a shank and very thin. I said to do both changes a bit more. The second one — perfect divot, small draw and on target. I walk over, put my hand up for a high five and say, “Awesome job! Great shot!”

He leaves me hanging and says, ”Yeah, but I hit it in the toe.”

Don’t judge him. Every day I have people with 50-yard slices toned down to 15-20 yards saying the ball is still slicing. These are people who won’t accept a fade, but slam their club when it over draws 15 feet left of the target… and so on. I can’t judge or be angry; I used to be these guys, too. During a one-hour lesson, I often hear people get frustrated with themselves for thin and fat, left and right, heel and toe. Apparently, anything not hunting flags or hit out of a dime-sized area is an epic fail. I also get emails the next day saying the fault and miss is still there.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

My big miss has always been a big block, often in the heel. Instead, I now often hit a pull in the left fairway bunker out of the toe. I celebrate like I’m Kool & the Gang and it’s 1999… and I get strange looks from everyone. I can manage a 10-15 yard low, slightly drawn pull. I cannot not manage a 40-50 yard in the atmosphere block… that cuts.

So, now that I have described all of US as pathetic, let’s see what we can do.

  1. Be hard on yourself, be competitive and set lofty goals all you want… but you need to accept at least a one-side miss. If you hate hitting thin, weak fades, you need to allow yourself a slightly heavy over draw. Not allowing yourself any miss will make you miss every shot.
  2. Generally, the better the player, the larger the pool of results that are used to judge success. Pros judge themselves over months and years. High-handicappers judge themselves on their previous shot. Do you think pros make a swing change after 10 good shots and one minor miss? We all seem to think that course of action is astute. Bad shot, must have done something wrong… HULK MUST FIX!
  3. Don’t judge your shots on a pass/fail grade. Grade yourself A-F. Are you going to feel better after 10 A’s, 25 B’s, 15 C’s, 4 D’s and 1 F… or 10 passes and 40 fails? If every non-perfect shot is seen as a failure, your subconscious will do something different in order to please you. Again, 40 different swings.
  4. Improving your swing and scores is a lot like losing weight. No one expects to make changes in a diet and exercise routine and lose 20 pounds in one day, yet golfers expect a complete overhaul in a small bucket. Give yourself realistic time frames for improvement. “I’m a 12. By the end of next year, I want to be an 8.”  That’s your goal, not whether or not your last range session was the worst in a month. It’s a bad day; that is allowed. Major champions miss cuts and all of them not named Tiger Woods don’t change their swings. They try and do better next week… and they nearly always do.
  5. DO NOT measure yourself either on the mechanics of your swing or your scoring results according to some arbitrary standard of perfection… and especially not against tour players. Measure yourself against yourself. Think Ty Webb. Is your swing better than it was 6 months ago? Do you hit it better than 6 months ago? Are you scoring better than 6 months ago? If you can say yes to at least two of those questions, your swing looking like Adam Scott is less relevant than the color of golf tee you use.

That is a winning formula, and just like bad habits in your swing, you can’t wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re no longer into self flagellation. It takes effort and practice to improve your approach and get out of your own way… but more importantly, have some fun.

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15 hot takes from Greg Norman on our 19th Hole podcast

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Our Michael Williams spoke with the Great White Shark himself, Greg Norman, for GolfWRX’s 19th Hole podcast. Not surprisingly, the two-time major champion had no shortage of hot takes.

While you’ll want to check out the full ‘cast, here are 15 takes of varying degrees of hotness, from Norman’s feelings about bifurcation to whether he’d pose for ESPN’s Body Issue.

1) He wants bifurcation immediately, rolling back technology for the pros, rolling it forward for amateurs

“I would instigate a bifurcation of the rules. I would roll back the golf ball regulations to pre-1996. I would roll back the technology that’s in the golf equipment for the professionals. And I would open up the technology and give it to the masses because the pros who developed the maximum club head speed of 118, 120 are the ones who maximize what technology is in that piece of equipment. So the person who’s under 100 miles an hour does not hit the ball an extra 30, 35 yards at all. They may pick up a few yards but they don’t get the full benefit of that technology…I would definitely do that because I think we’ve gotta make the game more fun for the masses. “

2) He has no relationship with Tiger Woods and doesn’t plan to watch him play golf

“And this might sound kind of strange. What I’ll say is … I really, in all honesty, I really don’t care what Tiger does with golf. I think Tiger is, golf probably needs him to some degree but golf doesn’t need him, if you know what I mean, because there’s so many other incredibly talented great young players out there, probably a dozen of them, maybe even more, that are equal, if not way better than Tiger, and they can carry the baton of being the number one player in the world. So, I get a little bit perplexed about and disappointed about how some of these guys get pushed into the background by the attention Tiger gets. I hope he does well. If he doesn’t do well, it doesn’t bother me. If he does do well, it doesn’t bother me.”

3) He plays almost no golf these days

“I really don’t play a lot of golf. I played with my son in the father-son at the end of last year, had a blast with him. Played a little bit of golf preparing for that. But since then I have not touched a golf club.”

4) He doesn’t enjoy going to the range anymore

“To be honest with you I’m sick and tired of being on the driving range hitting thousands and thousands of golf balls. That bores me to death now. My body doesn’t like it to tell you the truth. Since I’ve stopped playing golf I wake up without any aches and pains and I can go to the gym on a regular basis without aches and pains. So my lifestyle is totally different now. My expectations, equally, is totally different.”

5) It took him a long time to get used to recreational golf

“But I’ve been in this mode now for quite a few years now so the first couple of years, yes. My body was not giving me what my brain was expecting. So you do have to make those mental adjustments. Look, there’s no difference than when you hit 40, you’re a good player or not a good player. Things start to perform differently. Your proprioception is different. Your body is different. I don’t care how good you are and how great physical shape you are. Your body after just pure wear and tear, it eventually does tend to break down a little bit. And when you’re under the heat of the battle and under the gun, when you have to execute the most precise shot, your body sometimes doesn’t deliver what you want.”

6) He’s a big Tom Brady fan

“I’m a big fan, big admirer of his. He gets out of it what he puts into it obviously…But he’s also a role model and a stimulator for his teammates. No question, when you go to play Brady and the Patriots, you’d better bring your A game because he’s already got his A game ready to go.”

7) He believes we’ll see 50-plus-year-old winners on Tour

“I said this categorically when Tom Watson nearly won at Turnberry in his 50s, when I nearly won at Royal Birkdale in my 50s….if you keep yourself physically in good shape, flexibility in good shape, as well as your swing playing, and your swing. Yeah, maybe the yips come in maybe they don’t, that depends on the individual, right? But at the end of the day, my simple answer is yes. I do believe that’s going to happen.”

8) The Shark logo has been vital to his post-golf success

“But I realized very early on in life too that every athlete, male or female, no matter what sports you play you’re a finite entity. You have a finite period of time to maximize your best performance for X number of years. And with golf, if you look at it historically, it’s almost like a 15 year cycle. I had my 15 year run. Every other player has really has had a 15 year run, plus or minus a few years.”

“So you know you have that definitive piece of time you got to work with and then what you do after that is understanding what you did in that time period. And then how do you take that and parlay it? I was lucky because I had a very recognizable logo. It wasn’t initials. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just a Great Shark logo. And that developed a lot of traction. So I learned marketing and branding very, very quickly and how advantageous it could be as you look into the future about building your businesses.”

9) He’s tried to turn on-course disappointments into positives

“We all … well I shouldn’t say we all. I should say the top players, the top sports men and women work to win. Right? And when we do win that’s what we expected ourselves to do because we push ourselves to that limit. But you look at all the great golfers of the past and especially Jack Nicklaus, it’s how you react to a loss is more important than how you react to a victory. And so, I learned that very, very early on. And I can’t control other people’s destiny. I can’t control what other people do on the golf course. So I can only do what I do. When I screw up, I use that as a very strong study point in understanding my weakness to make sure that I make a weakness a strength.”

10) Jordan Spieth is best suited to be the top player in the world

“I think that Jordan is probably the most balanced, with best equilibrium in the game. He’s probably, from what I’m seeing, completely in touch with the responsibilities of what the game of golf and the success in the game of golf is.”

11) His golf design is built on two pillars

“Two things: Begin with the end in mind and the least disturbance approach. I think we, the industry of golf course design industry, really did the game of golf a major disservice in the 80s and 90s when everybody was leveraged to the hilt, thought they had unlimited capital, and thought they could just go build these big golf courses with big amounts of money invested in with magnificent giant club houses which weren’t necessary. So, we were actually doing a total disservice to the industry because it was not sustainable.”

12) He’s still not happy about having essentially invented the WGC events and not getting credit

“I’ll always be a little bit salty about that because there’s a saying that I keep telling everybody, “slay the dreamer.” I came up with a pretty interesting concept where the players would be the part owners of their own tour or their own destiny and rewarded the riches if they performed on the highest level. And quite honestly, Michael, actually a friend of mine sent me an article, it was a column written, “Shark and Fox Plan to Take a Bite out of the PGA”. And this is written in 11/17/94 and I literally just got it last night. And I’m reading through this article and I’m going, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I was ahead of my time!” I really was ahead of my time.

So, it was very, very kind of like a reflective moment for me. I read it again this morning with a cup of coffee and I did sit back and, I’ll be brutally honest with you and your listeners, and did sit back and I did get a little bit angry because of the way I was portrayed, the way I was positioned.”

13) He was muzzled by the producer at Fox

“I’m not going to dig deep into this, I think there was just a disconnect between the producer and myself. I got on really well with the director and everybody else behind the scenes, some of my thought processes about what I wanted to talk about situations during the day, and it just didn’t pan out. And things that I wanted to say, somebody would be yelling in my ear, “Don’t say it, don’t say it!” So it became a very much a controlled environment where I really didn’t feel that comfortable.”

14) Preparation wasn’t the problem during his U.S. Open broadcast

“I was totally prepared so wherever this misleading information comes saying I wasn’t prepared, I still have copious notes and folders about my preparation with the golf course, with the players, with the set-up, with conditioning. I was totally prepared. So that’s an assumption that’s out there that is not true. So there’s a situation where you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

15) He would do ESPN’s Body Issue

“Of course I’d do it. I think I like being fit. I think on my Instagram account I probably slipped a few images out there that created a bit of a stir…And I enjoy having myself feel good. And that’s not an egotistical thing, it’s just none of my, most of my life I’ve been very healthy fit guy and if somebody like ESPN wants to recognize that, yeah of course I would consider doing it.”

Don’t forget to listen to the full podcast here!

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