Ask the Top 100: Why do I screw up under pressure?
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At times I fail to get trajectory with my driver and irons. The shots seem like a stinger instead of what they should be. What am I doing wrong? A. J., Topeka, Kan.
I'm going to bet that the only part of your how-low-can-you-go shot repertoire that rates the term "stinger" is the feeling in your hands caused by the shaft shimmers when you hit the middle of the ball-ouch! Tiger hits the STINGER-let's call yours the "stinker," a shot we've all hit.
Your problem is that you're making the club "shorter" at impact than it was at address by changing your spine angle during the downswing -- not on every shot but as you say "at times" which is what Murphy's Law is all about. Here is an ode to ML found scratched on the wall of an ancient tomb under the third green at St. Andrews:
"I muff a shot but I don't care -
So it comes to rest pin high
Unless of course it matters most
And then it's ball bye-bye."
Shorting the Deal Under Pressure
When it really counts, you straighten your spine toward the sky, your club goes short and in a bad investment of energy, you hit the middle of the ball -- enter The Stinker.
From Stinker to Thinker
To rid yourself of the Stinker concentrate on one and only one thought on every swing: Maintain your spine angle. Whatever spine tilt you have at address, make it the hub of your rotation and keep whatever spine tilt you start with until the ball is gone.
When I make a conscious effort to stay behind the ball until impact I usually tense-up and make a bad swing with generally bad results. Is there help for an old duffer of 79? Phil, via email
Hey Old Duffer,
Good to hear from you. They say golf is a game of a lifetime because it takes a lifetime to learn -- and then some. At almost 80 you're still trying to improve your swing, and I salute your persistence. Instead of staying behind the ball, I'd rather have you over the ball at impact, meaning that your swing center, a point about halfway down your sternum, points at the ball as you hit it. Then let your head rotate so you're looking over the ball instead of under it as it leaves.
Use this tip and you'll be shooting your age and even better.
By the way, Phil, don't you hate it when you hear someone say "he's 80 years young?" Golf announcers use it all the time and each guy thinks we've never heard it before. They ought to rig a boxing glove that springs out of the monitor and punches the announces every time he says "he's …. years young." Pow! Right in the kisser. I'd never miss a PGA Tour event on TV again.
And how about, "He's not playing like an old Tom Watson but the Tom Watson of old?" I think somebody first said that about Old Tom Morris during a 12-hole tournament at Royal Bedrock during the first Ice Age.
Man, if I'm this grumpy now, just wait until I turn 80.
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 T.J. at www.tjtomasi.com