Archive: January 2009

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January 21, 2009

Ask the Top 100: Breathe easy to break 90, 80 or 70

Posted at 1:53 PM by T.J. Tomasi, Ph.D.

Dear T.J.
I am having trouble finishing out a round when I am in position for a good or great score. Recently I needed a par to break 80 for the first time and I made a double bogey. I will have no three-putts all round, then three-putt the final three holes. Is there any advice you have for the mental game?
Aaron A., San Francisco, Calif.

The fact that you keep repeating your failures at the end of the round shows what a good learner you are. You've actually taught yourself to collapse, and what you need to do is replace that bit of learning with learning that will allow you to finish the job. You need to do two things to develop a closer’s mentality: 1.) Learn to control your stress by correct breathing; and 2.) Hit into the picture.

How Good Are You at Breathing?

Oxygen rich air is the lifeblood of all activity, including your ability to focus. The cells that make up your body are like a network of tiny factories whose job it is to produce energy. Basically, you're in the import-export business: Oxygen is your standard import and carbon dioxide is your prime export. When business goes well, you're firing on all cylinders; when it goes poorly and the exports pile up, the problem reverberates throughout the whole company. The mechanism for keeping your oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange rates in balance is called breathing. And you would think because it's so important, we'd all be experts at it. Surprisingly, this is not always the case. Sometimes, just when you need it most -- like near the end of your round -- you don't breath very efficiently, which nullifies your ability to make pictures of the target. With no target in mind, you must rely on swing mechanics, which is not the way to break 80.

Under stress, many people breathe high in their upper chest, an inefficient technique that promotes a shallow inhale with rapid breaths. In the extreme, this causes hyperventilation, a dangerous condition where there is a poor exchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen. When you breathe too quickly under stress, you exhale too much carbon dioxide. This creates an oxygen/carbon dioxide imbalance that can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms including sweating, nervousness, tingling of the extremities (hello, three-putt), dizziness, anxiety and even panic attacks. While you're struggling with your oxygen supply, it’s tough to focus on the target.

The Relaxation Technique

To trigger the mini-relaxation technique, you must breathe correctly, deep down in your abdominal cavity. Place your hand over your stomach, take a deep breath and watch your belly swell. Then take your hand away. Without releasing the air in your stomach, continue to fill your chest cavity with air. With both your abdominal and chest cavities filled with air, you are approaching your optimal volume -- the maximum number of cubic centimeters possible in a breath.

Now reverse the process. Starting with your chest cavity, exhale until your belly has forced out all its air. After just one breath, you will feel a wave of relaxation sweep over you. That is a mini-relaxation response and it keeps your mental screen liquid by staving off the flood of chemicals that comes from stress. Make this procedure part of your pre-shot routine.

But you are not done yet. Now that you have relaxed you have to focus on the target instead of the consequences -- and here's the key phrase you should repeat before every shot: Hit to the Picture. Make a picture of the target in your mind then hit into it. You’ll break 80 in no time, and please send me a note when you do.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher TJ Tomasi, Ph.D., a Class A PGA professional, teaches at the Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts. You can learn more about TJ at

January 15, 2009

Ask the Top 100: How to play a course for the first time

Posted at 1:20 PM by Mike Walker

Dear T.J.,
What's your advice for playing a course for the first time?
John S., Hartford, Conn.

John, you need to play in a foursome along with your three best friends: The scorecard, a local and common sense.

When playing a new course the scorecard is your best friend. Often the course layout is diagrammed along with the yardage markers. But yardage can be deceptive and since the most important decision you make all day is your choice of tees, the yardage requires a closer look. If the course has a high slope rating, choose a comfortable yardage. You may be used to playing 6,500 yards, but if your home slope is 120 and the new course is 135, you should drop down to a shorter set of tees.

Your next best friend is the club pro behind the counter. Ask about any “rules of thumb” such as “everything breaks to Pinnacle Peak.” Also ask if there are any optical illusions out there, such as “the creek on the right of No. 4 cuts into the fairway more than it looks.” Jot down what you find on the scorecard.

Now comes your major focus: the greens. For your pre-round warm-up, make sure to find out if the surface of the practice green is the same as the greens on the course -- ask about speed and grass type, are they the same? -- and then practice accordingly.

When I was just starting in the business I was fortunate to talk with Lee Trevino and I asked him how to judge if a player could make it on Tour. Trevino said that a good test was to take the player to six different golf courses and play from the tips; if the guy could average par, he had a chance on Tour. This surprised me (I thought it would be a much lower number), but Trevino explained that to be a successful player you must be able to adapt to the slopes, grass and subtle contours of a new course each week. If you can’t do that, you won’t score—no matter how well you strike the ball.

Adaptation is one reason amateur players who come to Florida during the winter on vacation shoot on average 5 to 8 shots over their handicap: they play the wrong tees and are baffled by the greens.

Your last friend -- common sense -- tells you to aim for the center of every green regardless of where the pins are. This helps you to avoid pitching, chipping and hitting sand shots to greens you don't know.

So here’s your summary blueprint of how to play a new course: 1.) Play the correct tees; 2.) Ask about the course’s “quirks”; 3.) Check out the type of grass; 4.) Aim for the center of the greens regardless of where the holes are cut; and 5.) Lower your expectations. Oh, and don't forget to have fun while all your buddies are freezing up north.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher T.J. Tomasi, Ph.D., a Class A PGA professional, teaches at the Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts. You can learn more about TJ at

January 08, 2009

Mercedes still special event without the World Top 4

Posted at 8:49 PM by Jerry King

Hold out your right hand, make a fist and then extend your pinkie and thumb. That's the shaka sign, and in Hawaii it means "hang loose." Things really are different here. The bumper stickers read, "Slow Down, You're Not on the Mainland." I've had a lot of Hawaiians give me the shaka sign while driving, but no one has ever flipped me the bird.

I've been teaching golf at the Kapalua golf resort in Maui for 14 years, so I've had a front-row seat for the Mercedes-Benz Championship since the first one in 1999, and even before that, when Lincoln-Mercury hosted the event. Back then, the tournament really defined "hang loose." It was at the start of the silly season, and guys wore shorts and really went out there to enjoy themselves. Kapalua's Plantation Course is a spectacular track in one of the world's most beautiful places, so it's not hard to have a good time here.

When Mercedes-Benz came in as a sponsor and the tournament moved to the beginning of the year, our tournament became an official Tour event, but somehow that casual, hang-loose attitude survived. One reason is that there's no cut -- with a small field of only previous-year winners, no one is slamming his trunk on Friday evening. Heck, the last-place check is about $80,000. The Mercedes is also less like a circus than the usual Tour event. We don't have the dozens of equipment trailers and packed galleries. But mostly the guys are relaxed because it's Hawaii. A lot of them bring their families down early for Christmas and New Year's and make a real vacation out of it.

Of course, it's a bummer that the top four guys couldn't make it this year. For Padraig Harrington, we're pretty far from Ireland; Sergio Garcia is in Dubai; Phil Mickelson doesn't like the Hawaiian winds; and Tiger Woods is still recovering from knee surgery.

I remember when Tiger won here in 2000 like it was yesterday. In fact, it's probably the greatest match I've ever seen. He and Ernie both made eagle on 18 to force a playoff. Then they played No. 18 again for the playoff hole. Two birdies. It was so intense I had "chicken skin," as the Hawaiians call it. On the next playoff hole, Tiger sinks a 25-footer for birdie. Then Ernie just misses his birdie attempt, and I had a front-row seat for one seriously emphatic fist pump. I just shook my head -- Ernie played the final three holes 3-under and lost! Even Tiger had to smile at the victory ceremony afterward. "That was as good as it gets," he said.

Even though Tiger hasn't been back the last four years, mostly due to injury, I know he likes it here. I expect he'll be back -- if he qualifies, that is!

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Jerry King is director of instruction at the Kaplua Golf Academy in Lahaina, Hawaii.

January 07, 2009

Ask the Top 100: Plumb-bobbing is for golf boobs

Posted at 12:22 PM by T.J. Tomasi, Ph.D.

Dear T.J.,
Can you explain what plumb-bobbing is? I know it's an aid to help read the break in your putt, but I don't know how to go about it.
Lee S. Johannesburg, Mich.

Here’s a rule of thumb that will save you much time and trouble: Plumb-bobbing doesn’t work. You might as well read your putts with some crystals and a shaman. The plumb-bob method is like a campaign promise -- it sounds great but the more you question how it’s going to get done, the more it evaporates.
Plumb-bobbers or, as I call them, plum-boobs, differ in their methods, but the basic idea is to determine the direction of the break by dropping a plumb line from the ball to the hole then using your dominant eye to see on which side of the hanging shaft the hole appears. Some claim they can even divine the exact amount of the break on the putt. Don't believe them. The entire process is full of error at every level.

So why do a few of the best putters in the world like Ben Crenshaw and Hale Erwin use the method? Well, Crenshaw could dangle dental floss in a 30-mph wind and still putt well. My guess is that it’s a part of his pre-putt routine that helps him confirm what he's already seen; in other words, plumb-bobbing provides a “Go!” signal based on what Crenshaw has already seen on his first read.  Notice that good putters who plumb-bob always read the putt normally before they plumb. The rest of the read is for peace of mind.

Here’s what the authors of study on plum-bobbing, Sasho Mackenzie and Eric Sprigings of the College of Kinesiology University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, Canada, had to say.(The study is published in the  Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 23, Issue 1, January 2005 , pages 81 - 87.)

This study evaluated the validity of the plumb-bob method as used to determine the break of a putt. Two separate experiments were conducted to examine the consequence of violating inherent assumptions in the method. … The plumb-bob method was found to be an invalid system for determining the break of a putt.


After extensive measurements using advanced geometry and the arcane science of "danglemetrics," I have no clue which way this putt breaks.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher TJ Tomasi, Ph.D., a Class A PGA professional, teaches at the Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts. You can learn more about TJ at

January 02, 2009

Ask the Top 100: The right way to start your downswing

Posted at 11:16 AM by T.J. Tomasi, Ph.D.

Dear T.J.,
Recently I have been making poor contact with not only my irons, but my driver too. I don’t feel like I am turning through the ball and releasing. I feel like I am hanging back after impact. I am also hitting a lot of fat shots.  Am I analyzing this right? If so, what can I do?
Frank, Baltimore, Md.

I know you’re not sick, Frank, but your swing is a bit under the weather so we’ll need to go to the hospital to find a solution.

Studies conducted at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Calif., prove that the move that starts the downswing is a transfer of pressure into the front hip. Researchers placed electrodes on Tour players while they swung and documented that there is a hip switch from the back hip to the front hip at the beginning of the downswing, a switch which reconfigures your power centers and keeps you over the ball at impact. Here's a drill to help you with this prime-time move.

Step on It, Frank

Place a 9-iron on the ground so the face is under your front foot and the shaft is parallel with the target line. Hover the toes of your front foot above the clubhead while keeping your heel down then swing to the top. To start the downswing step on the clubface by switching pressure to your front hip just as you do when you walk. Make this your first move down. If you do it correctly then stepping on the clubface will make the shaft of the club pop up before your hands are shoulder high. Use this drill and you'll know exactly when you make the switch -- this is important because most golfers are late with the switch.

Once you’ve stepped forward, then rotate your hips and chest and hit it. Tee the ball, use a 7-iron and swing easy at first.

The key difference here is the concept: Don't think weight shift, think hip switch. It may sound like a subtle difference but your brain is much better at the concept of "walking" than it is at "shifting."

At the top of the swing I'm in my right hip but have not swayed off the ball. I'm ready to "walk to my left side." Note that the toes of my front foot hover over the face of the club laying on the ground, but my heel is anchored just as it is when I take a step.


Starting down I shift the pressure to my left hip and up pops the clubshaft.

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