As the wise sage Samuel Roy Hagar reminded us, “There is only one way to rock.”
So too, do I submit (with perhaps less thought given) that there is only one way to play golf in the modern age – and that, my friends, is to BOMB IT!
I have been an on-and-off-again “bomber” since ’91, shortly after I first took up the game. Not the hardcore, superhuman, consistently past- 300 variety of bomber, just kind of on the intermediate side of things — the longest in my foursome by a lot, one of the 10 biggest hitters at my course, carry the ball on the occasional par 4…that kind of thing. And by the way, before someone replies with a “passive brag” comment – there ain’t nothin’ passive about it baby! Walk it like you talk it.
Okay, so I say “on and off again” because somewhere around 2002 I got side-tracked by a bunch of mental clutter: TV commentators and their suggestions of swing-overhauls, the “importance” of accuracy, annoying reminders of “The problem I see with amateur golfers is…,” coupled with preachy instructors talking about “XYZ-Factors,” hip and elbow positions and other forms of odd lingo. In other words, I started playing golf swing instead of playing golf. As you might suspect, the golf gods abandoned me for my blasphemous ways, and I suffered what was akin to golf exile for about three years – let’s face it, when your game really sucks and you are beyond frustrated, no one wants to play with you! It is a very lonely place to be.
I feel confident in telling you that I have tried and exhausted every cockamamie golf swing tip or tidbit known to man – because I HAVE! They all proved equally terrible. After all, big problems aren’t solved with one-sentence answers. Go figure! No, it wasn’t until I had exhausted every option, hit rock bottom, and stood on the 7th tee at Aroostook Valley Country Club having a Chevy Chase-style meltdown that sent flocks of birds and other forms of small wildlife fleeing in terror from the surrounding area did I find my solution.
Having nothing left, and purely out of anger, I resolved to hit that little white RFRP (stands for “Read Forum Rules Please”) just as HARD as I possibly could. Lo and behold, the ball took off like a scared wombat, sailed an impressive distance and come to rest on the 7th green, 327 yards in total. My response sounded much like a confused Tim Taylor:
That, or I was responding to a self-inflicted hernia.
Why did this work?! It shouldn’t have worked. I was told on dozens of occasions, “Don’t try to hit the ball hard, let the club do the work.” Not only that, but I was told this by old dudes. It is well known that old dudes are never wrong about things when it comes to golf – they will be the first to tell you. Everyone under 30 years old understands this, even if they don’t like to admit it.
Well, having played golf in total frustration for nearly four years, I was NOT going to let this go. I kept the round going with that one single thought and ended up hitting some of the biggest drives and towering iron shots of my life. Prior to that day, I had been playing army golf – hooking the first shot left, compensating and blocking the next shot to the right. Hitting a recovery and having to pitch it close and hole a putt for an up and down. THAT ladies and gents, is NO WAY TO PLAY GOLF. When I started swinging hard at the ball, I got a nice straight flight that carried forever. It was a bit higher than I was used to, but was really flat at the top and I got more roll too. It was “point and thrash.” Really simple.
That realization came in 2006, and I have been “on the mend” ever since. In fact, I have built my whole golfing paradigm on the concept of hitting the ball hard – aka, “bombing it.” What follows here are a few anecdotal (unsubstantiated) observations I would like to share with all of you who are, sadly, still stuck playing “golf swing.” This is meant to be fun, guys, so read with your “silly season” glasses on and with a mug of your strongest eggnog!
Observation 1 – Anyone can be a “Bomber”
For our purposes, let’s start with a definition of a bomber: A person whose only swing thought or intention is to “hit it hard.”
Notice that this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with actual distance. Golfers may find that they increase their distance by going after the ball more strongly, but again, this is a swing philosophy and not an outcome. You don’t need to clear three bills in order to consider yourself a bomber.
That means that the 7-year-old playing from the forward tees who practically turns him/herself around backwards to manage a 70 yard drive (or however far kids that age hit it) is a bomber. The older person doing the Gary Player hit-and-walk with no practice swing – they can be a bomber too. And yes, the six-foot-plus big guy who rips it deep from the black tees is a bomber.
The person who IS NOT a bomber is the cat who takes three practice swings trying to make their swing as perfect as possible, the person who stops his/her practice swing halfway back to check a position and the person who holds his finish for enough time for a painter to complete his portrait. Not bomber materially, sorry. Those folks need to go to the “swinger” corner where they can talk geek-speak (ahem!) I mean golf swing, and polish their belt-buckles to their heart’s content.
Observation 2 – Bombers look up, not down
Part of your indoctrination into “Bomberdom” must include the realization that you are likely hitting the ball too low. Most amateur golfers don’t understand what a good trajectory off the tee really is. Bombers CARRY THE BALL down the fairway, Gladiator-style. They don’t look to poot out little rabbit chasers on hard fairways (using drivers with too little loft) while expecting more roll than a Faxon putt. This is utterly disgraceful on-course behavior for one who is an aspiring bomber, and it should be changed straight away.
The first step to fixing this is when you visualize a shot on any particular hole, the ball flight needs to “appear” above where you would normally look for your shot in your mind’s eye. Changing your flight is one part equipment, one part technique shift and also one part conceptual shift, and sometimes the easiest way to start it all is to “trick” your mind into visualizing a different flight. After all, bombers don’t waste time with more than one swing thought (hitting hard); this is just a visual trick that tends to work for a lot of folks.
So, what should you be visualizing? The standard, cool-looking bombed drive is high and flat, folks. No hooky runners while telling people you “grew up playing in the wind.” Other bombers are going to laugh at you if you do. You also don’t want a shot that burns the clouds and falls down dead either. You DO want some amount of rollout, so start reading up on all the articles here about “Positive Angle of Attack.” I would go into it more, but this article is about a philosophy and not so much about technique. There are plenty of knowledgeable folks on WRX to ask!
Observation 3 – Bomber-golfing is fun, so act like you are enjoying yourself!
Have you ever seen a moody or pensive big hitter? Someone who maybe took him or herself a little too seriously at the expense of enjoying a round of golf? Heck, no! How can you be upset when you’re big-hittin’ baby? Yeah, maybe you might find someone getting down about something that happened off the course, but day in and out, bombers are optimistic cats and generally fun to be around…and humble too! Here is another big plus: long hitters know they will be chased out of any foursome if they passively brag about how far they hit it. They are the ONE group in all of golf who knows to keep their mouths shut about their play (except for me). How can you not like that?
Think about it; everyone wants to be the person who “knows that guy (or gal) who hits the big tee shots.” Everyone wants at least one bomber on his or her scramble team. The dinner-on-the-deck crowd actually quiets down to watch a big hitter on a nearby tee because they want to see where the ball goes. The “Boss” always brings the big-hitter employee out for on-course business dealings with other companies. Being a bomber comes with perks, people. How can you not enjoy yourselves out there? Be happy, have fun. Leave the brooding for the “tortured-artist” swinger crowd.
Observation 4 – You have to figure out YOUR OWN way to “get-‘er-done!”
Well, I am going to contradict myself a little here. There is no point in trying to hit the ball high and far if you don’t also know how to make that happen. I concede that. Ideally, you would put in enough time in practice so that when you actually get to the first tee, there is only the one thought left to you – hit it hard!
I am not a swing guru or professional; I am an occasionally humble golf team coach and educational researcher – no more, no less. I am not going to proclaim one right way of swinging the club to get big gains off the tee. That is not what this story is about. I do, however, submit that everyone needs to find their own way of going about things. I will share MY keys with you, but it is up to you to find your own way to get things done.
I found that, for MY swing, the key is all in the setup, and the more attention I pay to getting things right in my setup, the greater my expectations may be of producing a big hit off the tee. My keys are:
1) Ball forward – off the front foot.
2) Stand a little closer (because of ball position).
3) Big turn back while staying braced into my right instep.
4) Turn through hard left – legs drive, upper body stays behind the ball.
Boom, high cut. Nothing to it, it just takes a concept and a little practice. Again, I am not a pro, but this works for me – it might not for you. You need to read, research, ask questions, watch video and figure out what works for you. However, when you get to the tee, there is only one thought to focus on – RIP IT!
Observation 5 – Don’t waste time with too much focus on equipment
Real big hitters can hit your mother’s driver past yours; pretty much, they will launch the golf ball with anything you put in their hands. It is funny, but most bombers I talk to focus more on forgiveness than spin reduction. Think about it, J.B. Holmes destroyed the planet with the Cobra L4V (although his now a Callaway staffer). Bubba Watson topped the distance stat with the PING G15. Both are great heads, but are more in the “GI” category of driver heads than they are the “spin-killer” category. Neither played their drivers at extended lengths either (both typically play drivers in the 44 inch range). It seems the two picked very forgiving drivers with a lower loft, had their shaft of choice installed at a shorter total length, and then…bombs away!
Don’t forget about irons, either. Watson (again) plays PING S56 irons. Gary Woodland plays Titleist MB’s. The two longest hitters I know personally play Mizuno cavity-backs. None of these irons could ever be accused of having “jacked up” lofts (by today’s standards, anyway) or being the first choice for those wishing to pick up a ton of yards. They are indicative of a player more concerned with versatility and feel.
I am not going to keep pushing the point with equipment, because so much is subjective, and there are much more knowledgeable folks to hear it all from than me. I simply wanted to point out that you don’t always have to look to certain kinds of gear to find distance; sometimes it is better to find gear that will allow you to swing big without suffering the usual consequences. Big hitters need forgiveness and feel as much as anything else, so go to a good fitter and find the right balance.
Observation 6 – With great power comes great…OPPORTUNITY. Better not mess it up
So, you have resolved to adopt the philosophy of the big hitter – congratulations! Now you just have to figure out how to play actual golf with your new found freedom and confidence. Here is the thing – when you resolve to freewheel it off the tee and into greens, you need to expect to miss more often, but also score big more often as well. It is “risk/reward” without caring so much about the risk! Most folks find that if anything, the peaks and valleys of this approach make for some really interesting and FUN golf!
To make the point, just look at Bubba Watson: he is 135th in driving accuracy but No. 2 in GIRs. If you watch him play, you’ll see that he knows where he can miss and still have a shot into the green. He also knows that even if he does hit the ball into the rough, it will likely be far enough down the fairway that he will be hitting a shorter iron into the green. Which would YOU rather have: 5 iron from the fairway or 8 iron from the rough?
The other thing is, the long ball IS the straight ball. Even if your tee shot lands in the fairway and rolls into the rough, it isn’t like you have missed 45 feet into the trees (if you have done things right). You will still likely have a shot. This is Bomb-and-Gouge 101 people!
Also, with iron shots, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be flag hunting with any club 7 iron and less. No more excuses! Those pins need to be falling like a rope bridge in a Harrison Ford movie. Don’t worry about misses, just take dead aim. If you are ripping your irons like your tee shots, that means your approach shots are coming in higher and your ability to hold greens has increased as well. So, if you ever find yourself asking “smooth 7 or hard 8…” you can stop wasting time on that debate, because your new answer is “nuked 9.”
“Yeah, but…yeah, but…” I can hear all of the skeptics saying this. I know what you are getting at, what if you miss the green and are short-sided? Well, heaven forbid you should ever experience a challenge on the golf course people! That is why the golf Gods gave you…the flop shot. Every big bomber worth his/her salt has always been able to execute the flop shot. I am NOT talking about the cute little cut/lob shot all the instructors want to sell you on. I am talking about the completely opened, fully swung, Mickelson PANCAKE shot that launches about 20 feet into the air and comes down like a fried egg (want breakfast yet??). This topic isn’t really about short game shots; just suffice to say that if you want to be a bomber – you need this shot. Study up!
Okay, I know you want clarification before this wraps up. The first point I made (observation 1) suggested that anyone could be a bomber if they resolved to hit it big, or at least as big as they are able to. Most of the rest of the points I have made suggested the actual ability to hit super long shots as a prerequisite. Well, not all golfers are created equal. What I am proposing here is more a philosophy of play, and less about actual numbers. For our purposes, the intent is more important than the raw ability (after all, you can BUY distance). It is like doing P90X (I hear), you do as much as you can and forget about the rest. If all you can manage is 100 yards off the tee, but you gave it your all to get that 100 – you are part of the club my friend.
Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings
After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.
First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?
Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”
Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.
Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.
What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.
How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.
My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do? Yes, they are the following:
- Square the club face
- Come into the ball at a good angle
- Swing in the intended direction
- Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)
But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.
After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?
The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf
If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”
So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.
We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.
Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.
The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”
- Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
- 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
- Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.
The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.
Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.
Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.
Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck
A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.
What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.
I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.
After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.
The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.
As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls. I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”
I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel, it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof, a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.
I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was right.
That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.
The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.
In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.
I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.
There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.
As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.
The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.
I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.
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