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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Danny Balin's Recipe For Winning Tournament Golf

Want to play like a winner? You'd be hard pressed to find someone better to emulate than Danny Balin, assistant pro at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, and winner of the 2011 Lincoln Met PGA Championship. Balin was one of several panelists at this spring's Met PGA Best Practices Forum who had excellent advice for those of us who want to score better in tournament play--or anytime.

"During your practice rounds, spend 80% of your time on chipping and putting and 20% on everything else," Balin recommends. When it comes to putting, he suggest using a chalk line to help train your eyes and a tee gate made just wide enough for your putter to fit through to groove your stroke. He also only practices straight putts since playing a break starts by rolling the ball straight on the proper line. Finally, he reminds us to train our eyes to see the ball go into the hole. "Do your eyes focus on one target, or flit around?" he asks.

When it comes to course management, Balin says, "Par is a great score." He believes a big part of the mental game is understanding that fact and knowing when (and when NOT) to go pin hunting, be too aggressive, be too conservative. To help your mental game, Balin recommends reading books--not just about golf--dealing with training athletes' minds. One he favors is Mind Gym by Gary Mack.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sharon McQuillan Clicks With Golfers

Bubba Watson may not need golf lessons, but I bet you do. Why? Because you're not Bubba Watson! You probably didn't start swinging a club at age six, nor do you practice--with or without a teacher--six or eight hours every day, work out every day, and play five or six rounds of golf every week. Maybe that's why you've not only never won the Masters, you've never even been invited. Trust me, you need a lesson or two or three. So how do you find a good teacher?

Plenty of golf professionals know a lot about the game, but the really good teachers are the ones who can transfer their knowledge to their students. Sharon McQuillan is one of those. I spent an hour with her on the lesson tee and came away knowing a lot about my swing--and how to fix it.

McQuillan, who teaches primarily at the Westchester Driving Range, taught with some of the best in the business, including Jim McLean and David Ledbetter. I first met her a few years ago when she was the head pro at Bonnie Briar Country Club, one of the few women to hold that position anywhere in the country. In addition to teaching, she currently is Tour Director for US Kids Golf for Southern Westchester and Long Island.

When I arrived for my lesson, McQuillan took the step that many teachers skip--she tried to learn something about me. I didn't fill out any forms, but we had a very useful conversation about what my game is like, what I'd like it to be, what kind of clubs I play (and whether they were fitted to me), as well as whether I have any physical limitations--including what kind of glasses I wear on the course. Then I warmed up a bit and hit a few balls.

McQuillan uses the JC Video system, which has two cameras (one down the line and the other face-on) that capture your swing in high-speed video. Like any good teacher, McQuillan probably doesn't need the high-tech gizmos to spot what's happening in the golf swing, but it makes a great tool to show the student what's really going on when they swipe at the ball. As opposed, that is, to what they THINK is occurring. McQuillan patiently showed me two problems, one with my grip (I'd unconsciously slipped into a bad position) and one with the way my lower body was moving during the swing. It's the kind of thing I may have suspected, but I'd never have seen it without her help.

Working with the video, we went through several more swings as I tried to correct the faults. McQuillan was extremely supportive throughout the process of critiquing each swing until I finally got it right. In addition to the swing analysis, McQuillan discussed several drills I could use in the gym or even in my office to work on the move I'm trying to approve.

One of the big advantages of her approach is that I'll be able to refer back to the lesson as often as I want, since the video is available on her website in a password-protected section for students. She also sent the video lesson to me so I could load it on a mobile video device like an iPhone if I chose. The video shows both my "before" and "after" swings complete with telestrator-type lines, stop-motion, and even a clip of Tiger Woods hitting a similar club. The most useful feature of the video, though, is McQuillan's commentary, which repeated the points she made during the lesson. It makes for a very effective learning experience.

There's no question that having another set of expert eyes (NOT just your buddy or the guy next to you on the range unless he happens to be a PGA professional) can help you play better golf. If you're looking for a knowledgeable, accessible, easy-to-work-with pro, turn to someone like Sharon Mcquillan.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Friday, April 13, 2012

Brad Faxon's Putting Wisdom

Eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon shared his thoughts on putting with an eager audience of PGA club professionals at the Spring Education Forum presented by the Metropolitan Section of the PGA this week. In a golf world awash in mechanics and digital diagnostics, his words were refreshing, to say the least.

photo courtesy of the Met PGA

"Players spend too much time working on their stroke and not enough time hitting the ball into the hole," Faxon said at the beginning of his conversation with NBC's Jimmy Roberts.

Faxon went on to say that there aren't really many absolute fundamentals in putting. "Everyone grips differently, especially these days. Where you aim your feet, where your eyes are over the ball, do your shoulders have to be square? Not necessarily. You don't even have to hold your head still," Faxon said as he talked about the many variables he's seen among the great putters he's observed.

There are some things he recommends, though, and they're hard to dispute. "You can have the best stroke in the world, but you'll never be a great putter unless you have confidence," he said. "You have to look at the putt and know you're going to make it." He adds, "You can't be afraid to miss. As long as I give the ball a chance to go in by executing well, I know I will make a lot of putts."

Setting the mental aspect aside for a moment, Faxon talked about keeping his arms soft when he putts. Many players, myself included, try to putt with soft hands, but Faxon points out that your arms need to be relaxed, too, if you want to take tension out of your stroke. You need to hold the putter just firmly enough to keep it from twisting--maybe a three on a scale of ten.

When it comes to practice, he stressed the importance of working on your pre-shot routine as well as your stroke. His routine, like that of all good players, doesn't vary, nor does it take all day. "I start lining up my putt as soon as I walk on the green," he says. "Subconsciously, I know which general direction it's going to go. I look at the putt from both sides of the hole, then put my ball down with the center line on the path I want it to follow. I visualize the curve of the line."

"Once I have my read, I don't waste time," Faxon continued. "I walk up to the ball from behind, take a practice stroke to feel the length before I take my stance, put down the putter face, take one look at the hole, and go."

During his PGA career, Faxon was known as one of the best putters in the game. He led the PGA Tour in Putting Average in 1996, 1999, and 2000, the year when he set a single-season record with an astounding 1.704 putts/greens in regulation. It was great to hear him say something I've always believed: "Putting should be the easiest part of your game."

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf