From the back of the range at the PGA at Whistling Straits

Trying to work on my game while broadcasting a major is always a challenge.  But this week at the 92nd PGA Championship, I found my little secret hiding place at the back of the range and have been able to get some good practice.  On Wednesday, all the equipment trailers were set up and a few of the players would come and join me in practicing.  First it was John Daly, the 1991 Champion.  Dressed in his latest “Loudmouth” outfit, John would casually smack a few mid irons in between puffs of his cigarette and sips of his diet coke.  John never gives me the impression that he is very intentional in his practice, but he was hitting a few balls none-the-less.  John was more interested in how I liked the Champion’s Tour.  I could tell he’s looking forward to coming out in a few years.

Then came my longtime friend Mark Brooks, the 1996 PGA Champion.  Mark and I entered some good golf talk.  He’s a real student of the game and approaches the game from more of an old school perspective like me.  Our discussion started about the course.  Mark likes Whistling Straights but he didn’t understand some of the set-up.  Since 2004, Whistling Straights has converted the fairways and approaches to the greens into fescue grass from bent, at least most of the approaches.   Some are still left bent grass.  I agreed with Mark that seemed odd.  Also, Mark didn’t like how the long rough was all around the bunkers.  He felt it would be better if the ball rolled into the bunkers rather than getting caught in the deep grass around them.  I can see merit to both, but I am more of a fan of how the Scots do it.

Then Steve Flesch came by to hit a few and he joined our conversation.  Steve wasn’t playing this year, but was also on the Direct TV broadcast.  Steve worked with Ian Eagle on the Par 3’s while Grant Boone was my partner on the “In Depth” show.  I decided to pose them both a question.  “When you miss a shot, is it more due to preshot, backswing or downswing?”  This was a question I had been asking myself lately.  In the final round of last week’s 3M championship, I was beginning to feel that my backswing was quite inconsistent.  When it was in the groove, I hit a good shot.  When it got out of the slot, I would not only mishit (off-center) the shot,  but also seemed to hit it with a cut or a draw when I didn’t want to.

Mark started first, definitely downswing Mark said, then he thought some more.  “Well, actually, I think it’s 40% preshot, 30% backswing and 30% downswing.”  Steve didn’t give actual percentages at first but definitely responded that the backswing was more often the cuprit.  Then we all started to explore the “why”.

Mark felt that something before the backswing begins usually determines the outcome of the shot.  He felt that either selecting the wrong shot, getting out of the pre-shot routine, or something similar was most often the culprit on a bad shot.  He saw equally how being out of position on the backswing can cause one to have to alter the downswing to square up, just as improper downswing initiation or transition flaws can cause bad shots.

Steve Flesch then suggested that for him, most shots are missed because his backswing gets off plane and out of position.  This he says causes his downswing to not be able to fire in sequence.  Steve suggested that for him 70% of his shots are missed because of his backswing being out of position, while only 30% are for downswing flaws.

Of course, bad shots for these golfers are better than most people’s best shots.  The very fact that their swing bottoms are usually 4 inches in front of the ball (Dynamic #2) and that they are usually swinging close to the swing plane through impact (Dynamic #5) suggests that even off center hits are going to create reasonable shots.  But I think it’s valuable to know what the pro’s think.  One can always determine cause and effect relationships in the swing.