The Hacker: Hunter's flop is horrible... but he is welcome to join our club
Sunday 10 October 2010
Even hackers found a place in that glorious Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor last week. None of us were playing, of course, because we don't go in for that sort of thing, but a few shots were stolen from our repertoire. None more telling than Hunter Mahan's chip on the 17th in the final game on Monday which flopped sadly short of the green from about 10 yards away.
Many of us have been perfecting that shot for years. It requires a certain hamfistedness that hackers possess in abundance. That such a calamity can happen to the best reminds us of what an impossible game golf is to get right all the time.
Tiger Woods fluffed a similar chip on the 18th on Saturday and nearly brained a photographer. But as embarrassing as this was, it was less noticed because his partner, Steve Stricker, was already on the green to win the hole and match.
Hunter's horror happened while the whole of the golfing world was watching. His match with Graeme McDowell was the last, with the outcome of the Ryder Cup at stake.
With McDowell on the edge of the par-three green for one, and needing only a half to win, Mahan had to chip it dead from 30 yards to stand even a ghost of a chance.
Did he crumble under pressure? Was it a choke? Or was it an attack of the "yips"? By a strange coincidence, that sort of sporting occurrence was being discussed by the English Institute of Sport – the yips being a psychological condition which results in neuromuscular responses, usually involuntary spasms of the hands or lower arms, which more or less describes my game.
"The yips is one of sport's most misunderstood phenomenons," according to Mark Bawden, the head of Performance Psychology at the EIS. Bawden adds: "Many have thought it is the same as choking, caused by anxiety and pressure, when in fact it is a chronic disorder, much like a phobia."
It was the chipping yips that set my game on the road to its present destructive state. I am slowly winning the battle against the ailment but it still returns to bedevil me at critical moments.
At least Mahan was comforted by his team-mates. When I make a shot like that all I get is a bollocking from my playing partners.
Whenever I try to analyse a bad round to see where it all went wrong, it seems the main problems invariably occur within 50 yards of the pin. Being able to chip accurately is the most vital key toa good game. One of the best chippers in golf is Phil Mickelson, and he was very annoyed during the Ryder Cup when Johnny Miller, a golf star turned commentator, said: "If Phil couldn't chip he'd be selling used cars in San Diego."
An unkind comment, but it carries an element of truth about the importance of chipping to a player's game. If you do have trouble chipping, of course, you can always use your putter if the grass between you and the green is short enough.
I tend to putt from anywhere and I can get quite close at times – especially on a links course, where the fairways can be as close-cut as the greens. It doesn't always work. On the 16th at St Andrews' Old Course I once three-putted before I managed to reach the green.
Having the Ryder Cup in South Wales was a tremendous experience and especially mem-orable for one of our members, Steve, who for months had been bragging that he knew a way to get on to the Twenty Ten course for nothing. He took many bets but had to pay out because the police caught him as he was sneaking through the undergrowth.
They were very nice and took him back to his car. He might have got away with it, they said, if he hadn't been wearing that high-visibility jacket.
Tip of the week
No 70: The Magic Move
So often talked about, but what is the magic move? Keeping it simple, it is the move to stay (or get back) on plane that good golfers make during the transition from the backswing to the downswing.
Most amateurs will rush this move and come over the top, resulting in a pull or slice.
If you watch the tour professionals as they start their downswing, the clubhead will go back behind them as their wrists flatten their plane, while the club is being pulled down.
The simplest way to get this feel is to set up as if you were going to hit a normal shot. Maintaining your posture, swing to the top of the backswing and stop.
Now imagine you are going to hit a ball at waist height, not the ball on the ground. Your right shoulder drops and your wrists flatten the plane of the swing.
This move is made by all good golfers, and it is effortless once performed correctly.
Try this and you'll gain yards immediately.
Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk
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