Saturday, June 30, 2012

“Body”–> Golfing: What They Told You Is Wrong

IMG_2800Here I am with one of my guys that works for one of my managers.  He is quite excited because he just score his first hole-in-one with me at my home course.  He is a very talented guy that codes some of our tools, and I decided to take him out early this week to go golfing before he heads back to Taipei.

So, why was he able to score such a great shot?  What was the key thought or technique that he used?  Most people would realize that the reason he did this was because he got lucky and was not related to something special he did on the swing.  He could have said that “I was thinking about pizza,” but thinking about pizza would have been a correlation and not a root cause with his hole in one.

However, many people don’t understand this about their normal golf shot, and therefore, they have no idea of how to improve their golf game.  One of the things that you hear all the time on the golf range and in games on the range is “keep your head down.”  What is funny, they will think about keeping their head down, and they happen to hit a good shot and they say, “well obviously this is the root cause of why I hit a good shot.”  This is called out so often, everybody knows that it is true.

Except for the experts:

To quote Harvey Penick, "Keeping the head down prevents a good follow through because the golfer can't swing past hip high with the head still down and not give something good in the finish up to do it."

To quote Ernie Els, "I'm talking about curing one of the most misleading bits of advice in golf - the phrase "keep your head down". It really does make me want to cringe when I hear someone say this to their playing partner "

John Jacobs, one of the most respected teachers on the planet, "This obsession with keeping your head down has kept me busy for 50 years "

From Dr Suttie in Tom Coyne's Paper Tiger, "“You keep your head down too long,” he tells me, which no doubt comes as a shocking news flash to the millions of self-hating golfers who have a single swing tip in their vocabulary."

I frequent some golf forums on the internet, and it always amazes me the advice that people give to help others out with their golf swing, which much of this being stuff like “keep your head down.”  What I can say is that I have been a strong student of the game, and the theory of learning.  Based on being multi-disciplinary in my learning, I think I have a unique view on how to get better.

Motor control is held by your cerebellum.  This is often called the little brain or the reptile brain.  All mammals have this part of the brain.  What animals don't have is a neo-cortex, which is conscious thought processes and abstract thinking. What this means is that the act of swing and hitting a ball is not something that your conscious brain can really grasp, as strange as that may seem.  The connection between these layers of the brain are poor, to say the least.  In many ways this is very good, because you wouldn't want to suddenly fall down and stop walking, just because you were thinking about "the existential being of man" after you had read a heavy book by Sarte.

You can give some major direction to the cerebellum, but you really just need to allow the cerebellum to learn by itself, or set up instinctual learning situations.  So, the number one thing is to simply show up at the golf range and keep on swinging, with some key training aids that will help you.

Now, can instruction help you?  The answer is yes, but just to start pointing you in the right direction and eliminate MAJOR swing flaws before the settle in too much.  However, instruction is not magic, and knowing what to do is only part of the answer. 

For example, if you ever try golfing and you know somebody who is good, they’ll feel almost compelled to help you with your golf swing.  They’ll say things like “just think about it correctly, and you’ll be hitting the bll great in no time. 

Now give that same person a set of left handed golf clubs (assuming they are a right handed golfer).  They have all the conscious knowledge of the swing they just told you.  Watch them try and hit the ball, and unless they have practiced being left handed, chances they will miss the ball. 

Even though they have a beautiful swing settled in the cerebellum for the right side, they’ll have none on the left.  The opposite side of their brain is not wired yet, and they'll need to practice.

Finally, I believe there are four training aids that are invaluable to train the cerebellum, and I wish somebody had written this for me when I first started golf.  Each of these are trying to help learn instinctively.

1. Get V1 pro and put your swing by a pro swing with a split screen on the software.  This give info to your mirror neurons.  This gets information into your brain. 

2. Most newbies swing outside in.  Rather being told this and trying to fix it, buy or make an Inside Approach.  Your cerebellum will automatically reroute to inside out.

3. Get a Tic-Tac for you elbow.  It will auto fix the dreaded bent arm disease that everybody seems to have that have never really worked on their golf game.  If you bend your arm, you simply get a little click.  This is all the cerebellum needs to correct itself.

4.  Get the book Swing Like A Pro (called SLAP by its friends).  It is technical without being a Homer Kelly level of technical.  I do believe that knowledge sorts of trickles from conscious thinking to the cerebellum, and I think this is one of the best to drive some level of really understanding where you are trying to get to.  Like I said, you need to train the cerebellum, but getting knowledge into the brain via upper level brain functions is still required.  Knowing what to do is a very good start.

Now hit balls at the range for the next 3 months, and you'll grow a bunch of new synapses involved with golf (or grow your brain).

Thursday, March 08, 2012

“Body”–> Torrey Pines South Review

imageThe side bar shows the 18th hole of Torrey Pines South.  I would like to say that I saw the 18th in all of its glory, but by the time that I got to the hole, we were 15 minutes past sun down due to the slow group in front of us.  I couldn’t see more than 50 yards in front of me, but show how I was able to hit a series of pitching wedges down the fairway, and get to the green side sand trap in four shots.  One bad bunker out, and two long putts later, I scored a 7 on the truly blind hole, and marked down a 90 on my score card.  I was done with a day at one of the most famous courses in America for golf.

imageThe golf course designer of Torrey Pines was William F. Bell.  You may wonder why I put in the “F” in his name, and it is simple to distinguish him from his father, William P. Bell.  The Bells were a family of golf course designers that spanned multiple generations.  Better known as Billy Bell and Billy Bell Jr., they had a strong impact on Southern California golf.  Similar to my home course of Coto De Caza, where Robert Trent Jones Jr., who designed the course, had a famous father in the design business, so did William F. Bell.  The Bells focus on the Southern California area, and their golf course sprinkle the area. As the story goes, the elder Bell figure out what the course should look like, but died before making it happen.  It is his son that gets the credit for the final course.

So, if you’ve stumbled across this blog, here is some of the key information for playing Torrey Pines in the “theologic” way.

The first question is “why would I want to play Torrey Pines?

The first thing to know is “what course?”  There are two courses, with the second course, the South course, the more famous.  In part, because the South Course was redesigned from the back tees by Rees Jones, son of the famous course designer Robert Trent Jones and brother to Robert Trent Jones Jr, the designer of my home course.  I was not able to see all of the black tees because Rees Jones stuck a couple of them way back in the course where you can’t see them.  The black tees are supposed to be by request only (in other words you’re suppose to get permission to play from them).

So, let’s say you’ve decided on Torrey Pines South Course. So why play?

Basically because it is famous.  It hosted a famous US Open in 2008, where Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a sudden death playoff and became the only player other than Jack Nicklaus to win three US opens.  It is famous because of the great views that it has of the ocean from many holes.  However, you probably are not going to play it because of the unique puzzles that it offers.  If you plan to play it, come expecting to bang the ball hard off of the tee, because Torrey’s main difficultly is simply length.

So, you are probably going to play because it is famous.  It is a municipal course, so don’t expect a private course experience.  More on that subject later.

Secondly, what are you going to pay?

The answer, unless you live in San Diego, is a lot.

The course is a city course, and they use the money from outside the city golfers to subsidize the city golfers.  This means that you will pay 3-4 times as much as a city resident to play there.

How can they charge so much?  Because the course is always sold out.  Thus they kept on jacking up the rates until somebody decides not to pay.  So what are your strategies to get onto the course?  Well I’m going to assume that you are not a city resident, therefore, you will need to pay the non-city rate. 

There are three ways of getting onto the course:

1. Get a far out tee time and pay an extra $43.  If you are willing to pay the extra money, you can get a tee time eight to 90 days in advance of your desired date.  If $43 dollars sounds like a lot, it is.  This advanced fee is on top of the insult of the high green fees.  For me, this is simply too much if any alternatives exist.  The procedure to get this done is described here.

2. The second way is for residents only!  So, you must find somebody to get you onto the course.  This is similar to above, and you should reference the same web page to get this done.  However, I’m assuming that you probably don’t know anybody in San Diego, other you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

3. Be a walk-up.  This final one is what I did.  Basically, you just show up and hope that you can get on.  This should be a favored option if you are a single.  I have heard that the normal expected time for waiting is around 1-2 hours, which is okay if you are warming up slowly.  One of my friends showed up during a day, and the course was wide open and they sent them out immediately.

Interestingly, on this third option, there is a “golden hour” from 6:30 to 7:20am Monday through Thursday where they simply don’t accept reservations.  So, you show up extra early, and you try and get one of the slots.  On Friday to Sunday, the clear time is from dawn to 7:20.

However, there are a lot of options on #3, and we’ll go into this more in-depth.  However, before we do, I want to help you understand how to get into Torrey Pines.


The picture above shows you the layout of the place.  As you can see, I show you where you drive in, where you park, and where the starter booth is.  The strange thing about Torrey Pines building is that it is a mixture of city employees, stuck in the back, and a very expensive pro shop, that sells nothing but goods and souvenirs.  So, unless you want to buy a material good, don’t go into the pro shop.

If you look at the picture, you see a building with a red line through it.  This is because you walk through the building to a small room on the back deck to pay your fees.  The back deck is very important in the process of getting into Torrey Pines, and this is where you pay the fee to the city.

If you remember up above, on Monday to Thursday 6:30 to 7:20, you simply walk up to the starter’s office.  You’ll want to get there before 6:30, and what you do is walk up to the back rail and stick your bag against the rail.  When the office opens, it processes the people waiting by the position of the bags on the back rail.  On the Friday through Saturday, people arrive very early.  So, you pull into the Torrey Pines parking lot, and park next to the person with their parking lights on.  They should tell you “you’re number 21”, and you now put your parking lights on.  When the next person comes, you tell them “you’re number 22.”

The above is all by my reading, because this is not the way that I did it.  I arrived at around 11:30 on Saturday, and I said, “I’d like to be a walk-on.”  The guy in the booth was not certain I’d get on, but I figured that I just should try.  I was trying to time it so that I would get on around 1pm, so I could pay the twilight rate.

Having put in my name, I walked to the driving range.  Even thought the driving range is a good walk away at the end of the parking lot, it does have speakers set up so that if the starter calls your name, you can hear it.  They sell a bucket of balls (roughly 100) for $12.  The driving range is narrow, and you hit off of mats.  Not a very nice place, but adequate if you are warming up.  It took me about and hour to hit through the balls and do some chipping.

After an hour of range work, I decided to go do some putting.  While the driving range was not very impressive, the putting practice green was very nice.  It is two massive greens, and I was able to spend somewhere around 45 minutes putting.  It hit 1:15pm, and the starter called me.  I ran up to the window, paid my fees.

So while you pay up at the big building, once you pay, you walk down to the starter shack.  There should be somebody in the shack, and they will send you either to the left side for the south course or the right side for the north course.

There are plenty of descriptions of the course itself.  I’ll summarize them:

1. The ocean views are beautiful

2. The course is fairly boring.  Bang the ball.

3. The course is long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my primer on Torrey Pines.