When a living golf legend chooses to offer his golfing knowledge, it’s decidedly best to accept.
Tom Watson, an eight-time major champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, recently released Lessons of a Lifetime II, which introduces Disc Three to his Lessons of a Lifetime DVD anthology. While the first two discs in the series relay the fundamentals of the golf swing, the new addition provides golfers with 23 more advanced lessons including mental approach, handling pressure and practice techniques.
Lessons of a Lifetime, directed by Terry Jastrow, a seven-time Emmy Award winner, has sold over 70,000 units since its release in 2010, making it one of the best-selling instructional programs ever. It not only sells, but it works. In a survey of viewers from the first two discs, 88 percent of golfers said it helped improve their game. It has been sold globally in 40 countries and five languages including French, German, Japanese, Mandarin and English.
So what makes Watson want to share his extensive knowledge with the world?
“There’s a cloud over my head when I’m playing bad. Life isn’t as sweet. It’s a lot better when I’m playing well,” Watson told GolfWRX in a conference call. “If 10 percent of golfers improve from this, then I succeeded. I want to make you a better golfer.”
With positive feedback from the original release, Disc Three builds on the fundamentals established on the two-disc set, and includes even more stories from his golfing buddies.
Throughout the series, Watson consolidates knowledge that he’s soaked up from more of golf’s greatest minds including Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Byron Nelson, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, his late caddy Bruce Edwards and his long-time teacher Stan Thirsk. He even has a lesson entitled “Tips from Tiger’s Dad.”
“I’ve plagiarized from others… and these are what I consider to be the fundamentals,” Watson said. “I’m narcissistic in the sense that these are the fundamentals that have worked for me.”
Watson has been a sponge around his all-star cast of friends over the course of his illustrious golfing career. According to Jastrow, he’s one of the smartest golfers ever, comprehensively understands the fundamentals of the game and articulates them with supreme simplicity.
Jastrow has it right. Watson breaks down seemingly every aspect of golf with an unbelievably easy to retain approach. He communicates complex moves, feelings and thoughts that are valuable to lower handicap golfers, in ways that the beginner can understand.
The combination of Jastrow’s direction and Watson’s mastery creates entertainment value and a natural flow of content that is top notch. Watson breaks down each concept with a verbal explanation and demonstration, using simple graphics (lines, circles and even virtual goalposts added in post-production) to increase understanding. He reviews key points as the series moves along and provides a checklist for every lesson.
Commonalities throughout Lessons of a Lifetime are his emphasis on setup, ball position and most importantly, grip pressure. Nicklaus was a proponent of similar notions, who was known to say that he could teach someone with a good setup and good grip, but a golfer with poor setup and a bad grip was unteachable.
Watson relayed a story from when he was having dinner with Nicklaus the night before the final round at Turnberry during the 1986 British Open. Nicklaus called Greg Norman over to their table and told him, “Just be careful of your grip pressure tomorrow.” Norman went on to win the tournament, and Nicklaus’ advice illustrates that even the world’s top players should concern themselves with how they grip the club.
“Bad grip and poor fundamentals are more likely to fail under pressure than a good grip and good fundamentals,” Watson said.
To explain phenomenons like Bubba Watson, he tells golfers to “Do as I say, not as I do. His swing may work for him, but probably not for anyone else.”
Some of the lessons in the series delve deeper and display how the body and mind should work through the swing. In Disc One, he introduced what he believes to be “The Secret,” which simplifies how the shoulders work around a plane. His knowledge of this “secret” originally began when he analyzed Corey Pavin’s swing and pre-shot rehearsals.
In the newly released Disc Three, he delivers a sequel to “the secret” in a lesson named “The Secret: #2: Keeping the Hip ‘Crease’ at impact.” It’s an original take on a concept that others before him have tried to explain.
“No one has talked about hip crease before.” Watson said. “It’s a different way of thinking that may be easier to understand. It’s sometimes hard to take words and put them into action, but it helps getting you to your left side and creating acceleration.”
On the DVD, he shows how the “hip crease” maintains stabilization of the body throughout the swing and produces power and solid contact.
As for how amateurs can improve their equipment setup (WRX members ears perk up), Watson said in the interview, “A 60-degree (wedge) shouldn’t be in most people’s bag. It’s too difficult to control distance and takes too much skill.”
He also suggests that players opt for more loft in the driver, play the ball farther forward in their stance and add more hybrids to their bag. He admits himself that he will be gaming four or five hybrids in the near future, recognizing that his status as a “super senior” is approaching.
With inherent and professional ties into the golf industry, Watson also tackled issues facing the recent decrease in the population of golfers. He believes that the golf hole should double in size for the sake of overall enjoyment, but doesn’t think it will translate to more people playing golf. The biggest problem, according to Watson, is that golf has to compete with smart phones and instant communication.
An 18-hole round of golf may simply take too long. Nicklaus has been experimenting with 12-hole golf courses, but Watson says nine, six, or even three holes would be sufficient for people to get the golfing experience.
Another popular topic in current events among golfers is the use of Trackman. How does Watson, who preaches fundamentals, feel about the widespread usage of the technology? “I’m skeptical,” said Watson. “How accurate is it? How do you figure out how far the ball went? Maybe through mathematics. The way I use Trackman is to look at the numbers when I hit a perfect shot. Then wait until I hit another perfect shot and compare the numbers to 100 percent confirm it. That’s how you should use Trackman. You have to tell Trackman when you hit a good shot.”
Golfers and teachers across the world are accepting Trackman and similar technologies into their preparation and practice routines. Numbers, angles of attack, speeds and spin rates are useful to hone the swing and equipment, but fundamentals are the heart of a golf game. That’s where Tom Watson thrives.
The MSRP is $49.95 for the entire anthology of Lessons of a Lifetime, which includes all three discs and a 20-page booklet. If you want to purchase the third disc individually, it sells on retail for $24.95 with a four-page booklet. You can buy either, or both, at www.tomwatson.com or on Amazon.
As Watson puts it, life is sweeter when you play well. There’s no better way to learn the game, or improve on bad habits, than a comprehensive look into the knowledge that a living golf legend has acquired over his career.
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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301
In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.
Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.
Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.
Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”
“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”
“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”
Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?
- Make sure the face is clean and dry
- Open the blade slightly, but not too much
- Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
- Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
Make sure the face is clean and dry
If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.
Open the blade slightly, but not too much
Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.
Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.
My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.
Opened too much
One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.
Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack
As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.
So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.
Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!
Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.
Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.
Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!
An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!
Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!
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