Dear Friends,

The subjects of this newsletter are all related to what we have seen in recent majors tournaments.

1) Set-up routine--getting you through hard times.

2) The perils of the forward press and the woes of Tiger in 2003

3) The most important shot in golf--it depends!


1) Set-up routine--getting you through hard times

If you are playing well, stop reading here. Just skip to the next point and keep doing what you are doing. If you have had ups and downs, then read on.

When most of us have a few bad swings or bad holes, we begin to change things in our swings. Sometimes we make a few better swings, but inevitably things seem to get worse. Finally, often quite strangely as a kind of cruel joke, we give up on the round, stop making any real effort, and the ball starts flying long and true again after it is too late. What's going on?

If you have a swing that works on the practice tee and have a set-up routine for all your swings, including putting--especially putting--then you should focus on the routine and forget about the results. This is what sometimes happens at the end of a bad round by accident when we mentally throw in the towel. We stop thinking and trying to fix things. We take all the pressure off ourselves. We go back to the swing we have grooved on the practice tee.

The lesson is easy to say but hard to do, especially under pressure. But it works. Focus on going through your normal routine step by step, not swing gimmicks or results. Think in the present tense just about the routine, not about past swings or future results, even the result of the shot you are currently making! This will get you through rough times. And when things are going well, it will keep the good things going.

The ups and downs and recoveries of Mike Weir this past year in his great win at Augusta and his not so great finish at the PGA illustrate perfectly. At Augusta all his swings looked alike because his routine was almost exactly the same each time. The consistent tempo throughout all four rounds was remarkable. Then at the PGA he had it going for three rounds, but then in the last round had five bogies in a row on the first five holes and dropped from -1 to +4--and was out of it. Nevertheless, he stuck with his routine, and at least stopped the bleeding, playing the rest of the round even par. It is not a dramatic story of a great comeback and was certainly very disappointing for him. But it was not the total disaster that seemed to be on the way. Perhaps he did exactly what we spoke about at the top of this section--gave up and went back to his routine.

The point for us is this. If you have a routine and a swing or stroke that works in practice, you can get back to it if you simply stick to your routine and think about nothing but that.

2) The perils of the forward press and the woes of Tiger in 2003

Four tour wins are a career that most would envy, and Tiger won four times in 2003 (as of this writing). But no majors and a very bad performance at the PGA fell far short of Tiger standards. Dr. Putt was able to watch all of the tv coverage of the early rounds of the PGA, which was pretty much the Tiger show. Even though that was not fair to other players who were playing better, it was interesting because it allowed us to study a struggling Tiger, a Tiger who played early on Sunday and who played all four rounds over par.

Three observations. The first one has to do with his putting technique, and the second has to do with all the talk of late about what is wrong with Tiger. Dr. Putt will save the third observation for the next section of this newsletter.

Tiger has a set putting routine to which he is quite faithful. See the letter on Tiger's routine at "Dear Dr. Putt" at http://www.drputt.com/deardrputt/putting-routine2-Tiger.php. But if you have watched closely over the years, he sometimes adds a forward press with his hands to trigger the backswing. It is not consistently the same, even for the same length putts. When this press is small and not noticeable, Tiger seems to be at his best. When the press is biggest, he seems to be putting his worst. The press seems to be opening up his putter face a bit. Consequently, his misses seem to be more often to the right.

The lesson for us is that any independent action with the hands is a dangerous thing in putting--even for Tiger. A forward press can undo all the careful alignment we have worked so hard to create. So find some other key to begin the stroke! For Dr. Putt it is rotating the head and eyes back from the hole to the point of focus on the green just behind the ball and saying the word "focus" in his mind. Then the shoulders start tilting or rocking with the hands doing nothing but going along for the ride.

Second observation on Tiger--what's wrong? The answer the commentators give is that he is fighting his swing and seems to have lost confidence in it. Tiger says that he is having a hard time getting the body to move in sync with his arms and shoulders. Dr. Putt will not add to the cacophony of unsolicited advice for Tiger. He is paying a lot of people a lot of money for that already! Maybe he should just relax, have a little more fun while playing, and not try to force things to happen on every swing by adding correction on top of correction. Oops, guess Dr. Putt did offer advice!

3) The most important shot in golf--it depends!

Back to Tiger to illustrate this point. Tiger scored far better in the PGA than he struck the ball. Missing fairways, missing greens, uncontrollable flying wedges, he somehow managed to keep it no worse than 74. Tiger was the personification of grinding it out. All his stats were far worse than the field except putting, where he was twelfth. Even that was a little misleading because he had so many one putts after a chip--er, usually blasts from that wire-like eight inch rough.

Lesson? Putting can save you from disasters, but it is not always the most important shot in golf. It depends on the course and it depends on the ultimate goal. (Dr. Putt always tells his students that the universal answer to most questions is "it depends.")

Most of the time on courses most of us play, chipping and putting are the keys to good scores. Why? Because we miss most fairways (like Tiger did in the PGA) and most greens (like Tiger did again). Most of us would be very happy with scores between 72 and 74! For us, preventing disasters results in a good round. Obviously, Tiger wants more than that for what he would consider a good round.

Nevertheless, on the PGA tour most weeks, chipping and putting are the keys because missing a few extra fairways are no big deal if the player has a shot to the green. But when one has a rough of 6 to 8 inches, missing a fairway almost always costs a stroke. So under those conditions, hitting fairways is the most important thing. To put it another way, players on courses with brutal roughs are far more likely to lose a stroke by missing the fairway than by three putting.

Best regards,
Dr. Putt