Queens of the greens

There’s lots to learn from watching the women on the LPGA Tour. I’m at the Office Depot tournament in Miami, where golfing nuggets are plentiful. The best women golfers know that there’s more to the game than power, although that never hurt anybody.

First let’s hear from Laura Davies, who happens to hit the ball longer than anybody on the LPGA Tour. But it’s what she thinks about the game that is interesting. For this happy go lucky Englishwoman, there’s no reason to take lessons. Well, that’s one way to look at the game.

“I just play by feel,” Davies said on the practice tee. “That’s the way I’ve always played. I see the shot and I swing. I don’t understand why anybody would ask somebody else to tell them about their swings.”

That’s an unusual approach, but it’s worked for Davies. She’s won 19 LPGA tournaments, doing it her way and not somebody else’s. Hmmm-it’s something to think about: self-knowledge and awareness as a way to better golf. Seek your own counsel. It’s worth thinking about, although one probably should have a good deal of natural ability to go that route.

Go with the flow
<IMG src="http://www.fifty-plus.netallairespectra/system/mediastore/QueenofGreens.jpg” align=”left”>We can also think about Carin Koch, probably the best golfer on the LPGA Tour not to win a tournament-since Canada’s Lorie Kane won three times last summer after finishing second nine times during her career. Koch works with Chuck Cook, who coached the late Payne Stewart. She and Cook were seen at Doral studying videotape of her swing. What works for her doesn’t work for Davies. Obviously.

“The game always changes,” Koch, a Swedish player with a wonderfully smooth swing, said. “I was playing a tournament recently and in one round I thought I had it all figured out. Then the next day it was all different. You have to be able to accept that.”

True words. The game beats most people in the end, even the tour pros. Nobody has it all-probably not even Tiger Woods. Lee Trevino used to say that the golfing gods always leave something out of a player’s bag. He felt he hit the ball too low to win the Masters, which demands a high draw. And Trevino was also a fader of the ball. His philosophy was
fatalistic. He just wasn’t going to win the Masters and he never did.

Trevino also said that the golfing gods didn’t give Jack Nicklaus a first-rate wedge game. He was right. His wedge play was the weakest part of the game. Nicklaus worked on that, but could have driven himself crazy if he hadn’t thought, “oh well, that’s the way things are.”

Rhythm is key
Meanwhile, back on the LPGA scene, I’ve been enjoying just watching the rhythm of the swings in view on the practice range. Koch’s is about as sweet as one could want. Kane swings at what seems like the same speed on her backswing as on her throughswing.

The most important thing one can learn from watching these golfers is that rhythm is indeed the soul of golf, as the great teacher of years ago, Percy Boomer, said. I’d suggest you find his book On Learning Golf and read it cover to cover. It’s a treat.

Years ago a golf swing engineer named Tommy Tomasello said that rhythm consists in matching the downswing speed to the backswing speed. That’s always made sense to me, and it’s brought home on the LPGA Tour. Most men go at the ball harder through the ball, probably because they can keep the club on plane while swinging hard and fast.

Keeping the clubface on plane is a key to better golf. The less the clubhead flutters around during one’s swing, the better. The best advice is to:

  • Picture the angle that the shaft of your club makes relative to the ground at address.
  • Try to maintain that through your swing.

Showing how it’s done
The women’s tournament at Doral offered a superb illustration of how amateurs don’t stay on plane. The pros occupied the major part of the range. The amateurs who were about to play with them in the first two rounds of the tournament were off to the side at one end of the range.

The amateurs’ swings looked herky-jerky. They picked up the club, which then outraced their bodies. Or their bodies fell one way while the club went another-the classic reverse pivot. It wasn’t a pretty picture, and it occurred to me that we would all be better players if we embedded images of how women play golf into our minds.

Change does take time, however, as Chuck Cook pointed out. He advises golfers who hope to make a swing change to commit themselves over a long period of time and to trust their teacher.

After watching the LPGA Tour pros I realize I get off plane myself, far too often, and that I sometimes swing too hard. It’s warming up in south Florida after a few very chilly days. I’m heading to the range to see if I can swing rhythmically and on plane. Just like Lorie Kane and Carin Koch.