Graeme McDowell’s career is back in gear — at just the right time

When Graeme McDowell surprised the golf world by winning the 2010 U.S. Open, he was a twentysomething swinging bachelor just beginning his ascent into a world-class player. Now the Ryder Cup star returns to another Open at Pebble on the cusp of turning 40, married with two kids and a stepdaughter, a partner in a thriving business (Nona Blue, an Orlando tavern) and having just brawled his way out of the longest slump of his career. “It’s definitely been the fastest and craziest ten years of my life,” McDowell said recently in his lilting Northern Irish brogue. “What a ride it’s been. And I’m not ready for it to be over just yet.”

McDowell’s breakthrough at Pebble Beach actually began two weeks before the Open, when he went 64-63 on the weekend to win in Wales, his fifth victory on the European Tour. He spent the ensuing three or four days “celebrating with the boys” at his home base in Lake Nona, Fla. McDowell’s game was so sharp and his confidence so palpable that Ricky Elliott, a pal who now caddies for Brooks Koepka, was all set to plunk down $500 for G-Mac to win the U.S. Open at 66-1 odds.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m feeling good, but I’m probably not going to win,’” McDowell recalls with a chuckle. “‘Just to be safe, place the bet each way to cover your a–.’”

Pebble turned out to be the perfect venue for McDowell’s efficient game, built as it is on precise iron play and deadly putting. After a second-round 68, he held a two-stroke lead. That night he strolled into Brophy’s Tavern in Carmel, which McDowell calls “the unofficial caddie headquarters of the U.S. Open.” Billy Foster, who was then looping for Lee Westwood, broke out into song: Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” That tune played in McDowell’s head throughout the fraught final rounds.

The Sunday leaderboard was spectacular, with Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Dustin all factoring in the drama. But only McDowell refused to crack. He became the first European winner of our national championship since Tony Jacklin in 1970, and that night wound up, inexorably, in a boozy celebration at Brophy’s. “When I got behind the bar and started spraying people with the soda gun,” says McDowell, “I think that’s when my friends started saying, ‘Okay, let’s get this guy back to the hotel.’”

McDowell made another run at the 2012 U.S. Open, narrowly missing a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to fall one stroke short, and he kept piling up wins, rising as high as fourth in the World Ranking. Along the way he hired the former Kristin Stape to decorate his house in Lake Nona, and then wound up marrying her, in late 2013. A daughter and a son soon followed. “Fatherhood is the greatest thing in the world,” he says, “but it was certainly an adjustment. Golf very quickly was no longer the most important thing in my life.”

Pebble Beach turned out to be the perfect venue for McDowell’s game: precise iron play and deadly putting.

Add in swing and equipment changes, and by early 2019 McDowell was on the outside looking in, with tenuous Tour status and without a spot in the field at the upcoming Open Championship in his hometown of Portrush. All this was the backdrop to the explosion of goodwill that followed his PGA Tour win in the Dominican Republic in March 2019, McDowell’s first worldwide victory since 2015. “It was relief more than anything,” he says. “I was like a flame flickering. I was feeling my mortality. I was becoming aware that all of this could go away very quickly. So to finally win again, a giant burden has been lifted.”

Just like that, McDowell’s expectations are very different for Pebble Beach (champs are exempt into the ensuing ten U.S. Opens) and Royal Portrush (where he has a golden opportunity to play his way into the field at this week’s Canadian Open). Is it time to run out and start placing bets again?

“Well, let’s not get carried away,” McDowell says. “But I was never going to be satisfied returning to Pebble as a ceremonial golfer. It’s not the legacy, it’s not the impact I want to have in this game. I know I have one more big run in me. I have a vision of getting back to the top of the game one more time. How cool would it be if Pebble Beach is once again the launching pad?”

SOURCE:  Golf.com

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In cool, wet conditions, Bethpage Black will play tough, long for PGA Championship

When it was announced that the PGA Championship was moving from August to May, some pundits and fans balked at the idea of holding a major championship in the Northeast or upper Midwest because of days like Monday at Bethpage State Park.

After about an inch of rain fell on the Black Course on Sunday, scattered showers and chilly temperatures persisted as a Nor’easter developed off the coast of southern New England, bringing showers and a chilly eastern wind that kept temperatures in the high 40s.

It could have been worse: the same system is expected to bring several inches of snow to higher elevations of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine on Monday.

Bethpage Black’s scorecard yardage is 7,459 yards, but in conditions like Monday’s, it played even longer.

“Hole seven is playing as a par 4 and we played from where the 520 tee is. I hit a really good drive and I still had 255 to 260 yards to the center of the green,” said Billy Horschel, who is currently ranked No. 43 on the Official World Golf Ranking. “And that distance doesn’t even account for the wind and the cold weather, so that shot was probably playing 280 or 290.”

Horschel added that he typically hits his 7-iron 180 yards, but on the second hole on Monday morning, he hit one that only went 150.

The official tournament forecast calls for the rain to subside early Tuesday morning, with clouds and warmer conditions expected on Wednesday. There is a 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday morning, but temperatures are expected to rise into the mid- and high 60s on Saturday and Sunday.

The 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens were contested here on wet golf courses, and it looks like the first PGA Championship that Bethpage Black will host is also going to be played on a soft, long course.

SOURCE: USAtoday

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Keep The Lead Hip Firm For A Solid Swing
For More Power, Avoid Sliding Toward Target

One of the most prevalent issues that I see with my students is sliding the left, or lead hip (right-handed golfer) too far toward the target in the downswing.

Most of us, when we first started playing the game, were told to hit against a firm left side. When the left hip moves well past the left foot, there isn’t a whole lot of firmness. And, there isn’t a whole lot of rotation. And without rotation, power is dramatically reduced.

Here is an analogy that might help put you back on track:

Maybe you have a fenced-in back yard with a gate. If you don’t, humor me and just pretend that you do. If the post that the gate is attached to is straight up and down, the gate opens and closes perfectly. If the post is tilted, good luck with the gate. Same with your golf swing. At impact, if the left hip is over the left knee and left ankle, forming a straight vertical line, your right hip will rotate perfectly just like the gate. If the left hip slides past the left foot, rotation is diminished along with power and accuracy.

Here is a drill to help you get the hang of it:

Stand in a doorway with the outside of your left foot touching the door jam. Cross your arms across your chest. Make a backswing turn and then a through swing turn. During the latter allow your left hip to move laterally just enough to make contact with the jam. That amount will put you in a vertical left leg position, the perfect place for maximum lead hip rotation. And hip rotation translates to more power, which we all want.

John Marshall is a two-time American Long Drivers Association super senior national champion and five-time RE/MAX World Long Drive finalist

SOURCE:  golftipsmag

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While golf participation is stable, Tiger effect gives industry a boost

As golf industry leaders gathered in the nation’s capital Wednesday, there were likely self-congratulatory messages, obligatory selfies and a celebration by those who see further proof that they continue to grow the game.

But there should also be a moment of thanks to the man who has the biggest impact on the game worldwide just by showing up and, even more significantly, by winning the most coveted major championship in golf.

Tiger Woods wasn’t in Washington for National Golf Day, but there was plenty of talk about the impact his fifth Masters victory has on the industry. According to the latest Golf Industry Report released by the National Golf Foundation, 74 million people watched or read about golf without playing in 2018, an increase of about 12 percent year over year. Part of the growth is “attributable to Woods,” the NGF says.

“When you go beyond the hard-core golf enthusiast and you’re trying to capture the casual masses, it is Tiger. It is only Tiger,” says Patrick Rishe, director of the Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis, when asked about the impact of Woods’ latest win at Augusta National.

It’s no secret that golf faces tough challenges – as demonstrated in the continued trend of course closures in the U.S. (198.5 18-hole equivalent courses closed last year while 12.5 of the same type of courses opened) and the competition the sport faces in trying to attract busy adults and teens who don’t have free time or the resources to play.

But a Tiger resurgence changes the conversation around the state of the game, sports economists say.

“Even if you’re not a fan of his, you can at least appreciate the moment, if you’re being unbiased. You can appreciate the sense of history, and it adds that cool factor back to the sport when he’s playing as well as he’s playing,” Rishe says.

Even if Woods, 43, doesn’t add to his 15 major championships, the industry benefits just from having him compete on Tour.

“It’s going to be great for golf to potentially ride a second wave of Tiger Woods even if all he’s doing is contending; he doesn’t have to win by 15 shots,” says Todd McFall, an assistant teaching professor in economics at Wake Forest. “As long as he’s contending, it’s going to be really great for golf for as long as it happens.

“If you called me in a year and Tiger Woods won another tournament and contended in three or four, golf’s going to be in a lot better place than it would be otherwise.”

Outside of the Tiger effect, the National Golf Foundation provides a fairly positive outlook for the industry, not surprisingly, reporting that the sport’s participation base remains stable. It says about 24.2 million people played golf on a course in 2018, which was up from 23.8 million the previous year. The NGF counts anyone over age 6 in that participation figure.

The report says another 9.3 million exclusively played an off-course form of the game at facilities such as Topgolf or Drive Shack. The game’s overall participant pool was 33.5 million, up 4 percent over last year.

Steve Mona, executive director of We Are Golf, describes the industry as stable and evolving. “Golf used to mean an 8 a.m. tee time wearing khaki slacks, a golf shirt, a visor on forward and metal spikes, playing with a regular group you’ve been playing with for 10 years,” Mona says.

“But now it can mean 8 p.m. wearing cargo shorts and flip flops, an untucked shirt and a hat on backwards at a Topgolf or a Drive Shack. Just like almost any other form of recreation has evolved, so has golf. What we need to do as an industry, in my judgment, is to be open to the fact that people are going to come into the game in different ways.”

Mona acknowledges that not every person who hit balls at Topgolf will go on to play 18 holes on a course. But he’s optimistic that quite a few Topgolfers will get hooked. “We definitely think that that’s complementary to the on-course experience.”

SOURCE:  Golfweek

Five steps to copy Tiger Woods’s swing technique

As last season proved, a healthy Tiger is a scary Tiger. While his technique is ever-evolving, it’s always worth studying, to say nothing of copying. Check out the keys to his swing below.
Muscle Matters
There’s no denying it—Tiger’s arms are still jacked! And they’re not for looks. Woods understands that at the highest levels, golf is a power game that taxes every muscle. Tiger continues his legacy as the original Tour gym rat, and if his arms are any indication, he has zero plans to let the youngsters on the Tour outwork him.
High Flyer
You can tell from his finish below that Tiger has launched a higher-than-normal approach. He’s extending his lower spine up and toward the target. It’s a great move for any swing— if your back can take it. Looks like Tiger’s finally can.
Back in Business 
Players with bad backs rarely swing to a full finish, let alone a high one like this. As with his knees, Tiger’s back looks ready for prime-time— the slight lean back or subtle “reverse C” is impossible to achieve when the back is in distress.
Bottom Gear
Is there really something to “glute activation” after all? You bet. There’s no better way to produce serious clubhead speed than by firing your glutes and squeezing your thighs together through impact. The combo causes your body to decelerate at just the right moment, allowing the club to pick up speed and whip through.
nee Brace 
Tiger’s healed left knee below can once again handle the torque created by his swing. His left foot is nearly flat on the ground, even this deep into his followthrough, providing the stability he’s been missing for years. If your knees aren’t as healthy as Tiger’s, set up with your feet flared, or allow more weight to roll to the outside of your spikes.
SOURCE:  GOLF

Masters 2019: The eight most underrated shots at Augusta National

Bob Jones once said of Augusta National, “We want to make bogeys easy if frankly sought, pars readily obtainable by standard good play, and birdies—except on par 5s—dearly bought.” And over the years Masters fans, both in person and via television have come to recognize some of the more obvious places where that holds true. The tee shot at the par-3 12th or anywhere on the No. 11 through No. 13 stretch known as Amen Corner, for that matter. The second shot on the par-5 15th is another visible example. However speaking with more than 15 past champions for the hole-by-hole course tour section of the Masters Journal—including multiple champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo—has led to an appreciation for the more subtle but no less demanding shots one needs to pay close attention to if they’re to play well at Augusta National. Here are eight shots players face that might not capture our eye immediately, but surely command players’ attention.

The second shot on the par-5 second hole
Whether going for the green in two or playing for position short of the putting surface, what many think of as simply another fairway wood or long iron play is actually a precision play. The plan for how to approach this shot completely depends on where the pin is located. If the pin is back left, the second shot must be to the middle or right. In fact, well right of the green is never bad because the pitch shot is uphill. Conversely, missing left leaves a downhill shot that is tough to stop. Most Masters competitors will tell you the sand is a better place to be than left or long. As for going for it in two blows, that’s an awfully tough shot as it is off a downhill lie and you’re trying to hit it high and soft. That’s difficult for even the most skilled players. The par 5s at Augusta National are more about where you place the ball on your second shot than anything else and perhaps there is no better example than No. 2.

Second shot on the par-4 third hole
The shortest par 4 on the golf course at 350 yards also presents one of the approach shots Masters participants fear most. Although a mere pitch of only some 50 yards for those hitting driver off the tee, the elevated green (only some 35 feet in depth on the left side) can turn what appears to be a very simple situation to a trying one in short order. The shot, although short, must be exact. Come up the slightest bit short and the ball will embarrassingly roll back almost to where it was struck from. Take too much caution not to do that and the ball might end up over the green, leaving a nervy chip. Rarely has such a short shot provided so much consternation for players.

The putt from the top right of the green on the par-3 fourth hole
Usually hitting the green on the 240-yard, par-3 fourth hole would be a satisfying play. However, if the pin is located on the front left and the tee shot is equal or past the hole on the right, an argument can be made that the player is facing one of the most difficult putts on the entire golf course. From there the slope is falling away from you with a fairly big swing to the left and the odds of a two-putt drop dramatically. Tiger Woods had a chip shot from the right-hand side of the green in the final round of 2002 and said it might have been easier than Retief Goosen’s putt from the top right. Woods made par and Goosen made bogey, so apparently so.

The tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole
Although the tee shot on this hole in prior years wasn’t a gimme, it wasn’t exactly a cause for angst, either, as players had the ability to carry the fairway bunkers on the left or comfortably play out to the right side with a 3-wood. That’s changed in 2019 as the tee has been moved back some 40 yards and to the right, making it play straighter. The bunkers also have been moved (although, in true Augusta National fashion they look the same as ever to the eye), now requiring a 310-yard-plus carry to clear them. With that being a non-starter for most players, the choice is to lay up short of them, leaving an uphill approach of some 200 yards or try to thread it in the fairway to the right of the bunkers with a driver. Regardless, what once was benign has now become beastly.

Tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole
Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo once called Augusta National, “the most nerve-wracking course in the world.” A microcosm of that is the tee shot on the par-3 sixth, particularly when the pin is located on the back right shelf. In that instance, the generous-sized green shrinks significantly in usable size. “I’ve always regarded the tee shot here to the back right-hand pin as my barometer for the week,” Faldo told the Masters Journal in 2006. “During practice rounds I aim for that spot and if I keep putting it up there, then it means my iron game is accurate. To fly a ball from 180 yards down a hill in a breeze to an area about the size of two dining room tables, well, you know your game is spot on.”

Second shot on the par-4 14th
The 14th has the distinction of being the only hole at Augusta National without a bunker. It doesn’t need one. While it lacks the glamour of the water holes on the second nine, 14 is a good, solid par 4 and one reason is the approach to a green that took some imagination to design. Although there are some pin positions that are accessible, there are others where the margin for error is slight. The green has a large swale in front and shoots off in several directions. That’s why approach shots—even ones struck just a few feet off line—can roll away from the hole some 30 or 40 feet or more.

The lay-up shot on the par-5 15th
We know, we know. We don’t want to be talking about no stinking lay-up on one of the most exciting holes on the golf course. But the saying about a man knowing his limitations comes to mind here. Masters competitors often face two decisions here. Whether to go for it in two is one. When golfers decide the prudent play is to lay up short of the water, then it’s where to lay up. Although most everyday players view a lay-up shot as simply slapping it down the fairway short of the penalty area, the pros know a lay-up shot is like a shot in billiards where the current shot is played to best set up the next. At 15, almost without exception, it’s about 80 to 90 yards from the pin and on the left side of the fairway. That, players say, leaves a flatter lie than on the right-hand side and offers a better opportunity to spin the ball off the flatter lie.

Putt from left side of the green on the par-4 17th
With all the dramatic looks on Augusta National’s second nine, the 17th hole appears to be a bit nondescript, especially since the Eisenhower Tree came down in an ice storm in 2014. The green, however, requires a player’s full attention as it is a deceiving putting surface that rolls off in several directions, with the slopes seemingly never bringing the ball towards the hole, but rather work it away from it. Raymond Floyd fell victim to the hole in 1990, when he appeared to have the Masters won. Holding a one-shot lead playing the 17th, Floyd got a little careless with his approach and it trickled to the left side of the green, with the pin on the opposite side. Now having to putt up and over the ridge, Floyd misjudged the speed and three-putted, eventually losing to Nick Faldo in a playoff.

Gary Player once said of Augusta National that “every shot is within a fraction of disaster. That’s what makes it so great.” The above shots would appear to further solidify Player’s claim.

SOURCE:  Golfdigest

How to handle a downhill lie and hit the green

If you play a lot of hilly courses, you’re already familiar with uneven lies, including those of the downhill variety. This tricky position—in which your leading foot is below your back foot at address—can be very challenging, especially from short fairway grass. To ensure solid contact and a pin-seeking approach shot from a downhill lie, you’ll need to make the following three basic setup changes.
SET SHOULDERS PARALLEL
Your normal iron setup won’t work for this lie—the clubhead will bottom out too soon and you’ll make contact with the ground behind the ball. Instead, hold your club across your shoulders and tilt your spine toward the target until the shaft matches the slope of the hill. Once your shoulders are parallel to the slope, move on to step 2.
Learn how to conquer any downhill lie.
MOVE YOUR WEIGHT TO YOUR DOWNHILL FOOT
It’s critical to make ball-first contact from this lie, so play the ball in the middle of your stance (or at least slightly farther back than normal) and shift about 75 percent of your weight to your front, or downhill, foot. This will encourage your body to move in the direction of the slope, rather than hang back.
TRACE THE SLOPE
Last, extend your arms through impact so that the clubhead travels as low to the slope as possible. By swinging on the same plane as the hill, you’ll ensure ball-first contact and a smooth, full finish— and maybe even a birdie opportunity.
SOURCE:  Golf.com