Sports: Devaluing Conference Champions

This week is Championship Week in college football.  There are the 5 power conference championship games, this weekend, that will have little or no significance on the College Football Playoff rankings.  This week more than any other shows the fallacy of the playoff system in college football.  The best thing you can say about it is, it’s better than nothing and better than picking just two teams.   You will hear on Sunday night such terms as meeting the eye test, most deserving and total body of work, on the self serving ESPN network.  This is a perfect example of a sport, and a sports network  thinking that their fan base is just plain stupid.  There is no other sport that picks their champion by such obscure phrases.  All other championships are decided on the field, not by some closed door committee. Granted, there are some at large bids for the NCAA tournaments, but the majority of the teams are in the tournament by winning their conference championship games, and there are 64 teams in the tournament.  Let’s look at what will probably happen this weekend, but also, what could  happen this weekend, which will have little bearing on the final four.

The biggest game of the five is LSU vs. Georgia, for the SEC Championship. This game will dictate what the weekend will be like.   LSU is about a touchdown favorite to win the game and a victory would eliminate Georgia from the top 4, unless a lot of other things happen. This puts Georgia under more pressure to win the game.   If Georgia pulls off the upset, then LSU would most likely stay in the top 4, and compete for the National Championship. For Georgia, it is a win or most likely go home scenario, which doesn’t seem quite fair.  The same thing can be said of the Ohio St. vs Wisconsin game.  If Wisconsin  pulls off the big upset, that probably won’t get them in the top 4, but it is unlikely to knock  Ohio St. out of the top four.  Wisconsin, would probably have to win by 14 or more points, to put Ohio St. out.   If  OSU, LSU, and Clemson, all win, and Clemson is almost a 30 point favorite to beat Virginia,  then it all boils down to the two winners of the Big 12, and Pac 12 Championship games. Then the committee would have to choose one and those phrases will be rolling off everybody’s tongue, come Sunday night. No matter what happens, one conference champion will not get in the playoffs, and if one or more upsets occur, as many as 3 conference champions will not have a crack at the National Championship.  Talk about making conference championships insignificant, the NCAA does it again. Of course, there is an easy solution to the unfairness of the whole mess.

The winners of the five conference championship games make the playoffs.  These are the five power conferences, and if you win your championship game you should move on. This is what sports are all about. What happens when Notre Dame has a great year. Just join the ACC Notre Dame, they need you really bad, and with this system, now you need them.  The end of the season games are more significant, and a conference championship game should be a playoff game. So how would the playoffs go from that point on.  The two lowest ranked teams that won would play the next week, and the winner would occupy the fourth spot. The schedule would then proceed as it is now.  Let’s look at those three disgusting phrases that are now used to pick the 4 teams. This team meets the eye test.  In other words, they look like the best team when you watch them play, and in many stats categories.   How many teams in other sports look great to the observer, but still lose the big game.  Try, too many to count.   The most deserving team, due to a tougher schedule, some  heartbreaking losses or who knows what.  Some times you don’t always get what you deserve.  Welcome to the real world.  The total body of work.  Three teams,  Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson, are going into these Championship games undefeated and untied.  Many people are of the belief, if these teams lose, they are one loss teams that DESERVE to go on, because of their total body of work.  Should they have made the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots twice, because the Patriots were 18-0 going into that Super Bowl. That was a nice body of work, until the Super Bowl.  How can any team have a chance at a National Championship in football, and lose their conference championship game. The committee and ESPN will try and convince you, if that happens.  There is only one way to determine a champion and that is on the field.  Playoff football is different.  When is college football ever going to realize this.

Sports: John Henry Johnson

John Henry Johnson was one of the best running backs in NFL history, playing from 1954 to 1966. When he retired, he was the fourth leading rusher of all time.  However, it took 21 years to get him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  So what made me think of John Henry Johnson this particular week, a running back who played over 50 years ago.  For some reason, his career has always been over looked by the media, and the football hierarchy. This past 2 weeks, it has happened again, and to me, it just seems mystifying.   The NFL, celebrating 100 years, is starting to announce all time teams, and John Henry Johnson was nowhere to be found.  When the Browns and Steelers met 2 weeks ago there were local articles about some of the more memorable Steeler-Brown games. Of course, they left out the most memorable Brown-Steeler game.

It was October 10, 1964, on a Saturday night, at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium before 80,000 fans.  This was the second of  8 games, where Pittsburgh went up to Cleveland on Saturday night, beginning in 1963, and ending in 1970.  This was the only game the Steelers would win on Saturday, in Cleveland, but that was not the reason this game was the most memorable of the series.  The 1964 Browns would go 10-3-1, and win the Eastern Division title and then go on to beat the Baltimore Colts 27-0, after a scoreless first half, to win their last NFL title. But on this rather pleasant Saturday night in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Steelers would reign supreme.   This was the John Henry Johnson game.  He would carry the ball 30 times, gain 200 yards, score 3 touchdowns and lead the Steelers to the upset win 23 to 7.  There were many things that were significant, in this performance.  He is still the oldest player in NFL history to rush for 200 yards in a game, being about 5 weeks shy of his 35th birthday.  He went on to gain over a 1000 yards for the 14 game season and is still the oldest running back in NFL history to rush for 1000 yards.  This against one of the best Cleveland Browns team in their long and illustrious history.  This is by far, the most memorable Pittsburgh-Cleveland game.

Now, one season, and one game, where you out shine the great Jim Brown, does not make you one of the top 12 running backs of all time.  John Henry Johnson, however, had a long and illustrious career. He had a better career than either Steve Van Buren or Marion Motley who are on the top 12 running back list.  He played in more games, rushed for more yards and had more receiving yards than both players. He was between Van Buren and Motley on career touchdowns.   He won an NFL Championship with the Detroit Lions in 1957, and to this day is the only black player to win an NFL Championship in Detroit.  But, he was known just as much, for his outstanding blocking.  Maybe too well known, and described better, as vicious blocking.  He reportedly broke many a jaw and face and some of these in exhibition games.  He ended Charlie Trippi’s career with a hit that broke his nose and fractured his skull, in an exhibition game.  Was it this style of play, that made people want to forget John Henry?  When someone ask Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back of all time, who is the best running back he had ever seen, without hesitation, he said John Henry Johnson.  Johnson started his career in San Francisco, where he was part of the million dollar back field, of Y. A. Tittle, Joe Perry, and Hugh McElhenny. He did more blocking during those years or his stats would have been even better.  This is the only backfield that has all members in the Hall.   It was always a bit of mystery why he was not elected to the Hall of Fame sooner.  People that truly know the game,  knew that he was one of the top 12 running backs of all time, maybe even in the top 6. When Cleveland comes to Pittsburgh this Sunday to face the Steelers in round 2, and we know how the first game ended, I will be thinking of John Henry Johnson, one of the all time greats.  The thing I will be thinking is, I wonder whose jaw he would break to retaliate. He probably wouldn’t be fined or suspended either.  John Henry Johnson died in 2011. At his Hall of Fame induction speech, in 1987,  he said he thought he would be dead first, before he got into the Hall.  Thank God, he was wrong.   I don’t think it was a coincidence that he was in the same class as another Steeler, Mean Joe Greene.

Golf: The Race to the CME Globe

This week is the final event of the LPGA tour, their tour championship, with the winner taking home 1.5 million dollars.  If you are a sports fan, and not a big golf fan, you would never know it.  I checked seven internet sports sites, ESPN, Yahoo, Fox, Sports.com. MSN, CBS, and NBC, and none of them had a lot to say about the event, and no leaderboards on Thursday or Friday.  I looked at all the sites on Thursday morning, Thursday night, and Friday night, and things were pretty sparse.  I looked at the home page of these web sites.  On Thursday morning  ESPN had a preview article, about 10 stories down, Sports.com had an article only two rows down, and there was nothing about the event on the other sites.  Thursday night ESPN had a story about one of the rookies playing and NBC sports had an article about the leader.  No leaderboards were to be found.  Friday night ESPN had an article about the Korda sisters, and Sport.com had a story about the leader. The rest of the web sites had nothing related to the event.   This was on the main pages of the web sites, and I am sure if you searched the web site, you could have found a leader board, but you did not have to do that, for the current men’s event.  The most surprising lack of coverage was the NBC site, since they are televising the event  LIVE on Sunday.  The Golf Channel showed the first two rounds and today’s round on tape delay.  Let’s hear it for the Golf Channel, real  supporter of the LPGA tour.  This is the season finale, one of the biggest events on the LPGA tour with it’s biggest winner’s check.  So why the lack of coverage?

Maybe, they are trying to keep it a secret, that the 1.5 million dollar winners check is a very nice sum, but it is still just .1 the amount that the PGA Fedex Cup champion won.  One of the problems is that all these web sites seem to have their own product to sell.  Fox sports is the worse, as they plug their shows through out the web’s home page.  Not much room for the LPGA there.  Plus the U. S. Women’s Open had one of their lowest ratings of all time on Fox this year.  ESPN is into the NBA.  If some one in the NBA doesn’t get what he ordered on his pizza, it will be on the ESPN web site.  CBS is into the NFL, and  again any little story about football is going to be on the website.  This Sports.com website is nothing but ads, although they said the most about the tournament, which is not saying much.  MSN just seems to flounder around showing things that happened 3 days ago.  But the mystery is the NBC site, that has a golf channel section.  Very little coverage of a an event that they are going to televise against the NFL on NBC and Fox, tomorrow.  Maybe they just feel that no matter what they do, nobody is going to watch, ( I am by the way), so why promote the event, and look even worse, when nobody watches.  Then there’s the Golf Channel, with tape delay coverage on the first three days.  They are showing the men’s tournament live and they should be doing the reverse, but this is what happens when men make decisions concerning women.   Speaking of men making decisions for women, the LPGA decided to extend their television contract to end at the same time as the PGA tour in 2021.  Somehow they are going to try and make some kind of all encompassing deal  with the networks.  Men helping out women. Come on ladies, when has a man ever helped a woman without expecting a lot in return.  If that deal goes through, maybe the LPGA will have to caddie at some PGA events.

Of course at times, the LPGA has been their own worse enemy.  When Michelle Wie was one of the hottest commodities in golf, they refused to let her play because she was too young.  Then their previous commissioner wanted everybody to speak English, good God.  Even though the last woman commissioner was a disaster, they should get a women to lead the organization, and go out and make their own television deal.  They need to market their product much better.   In this day and age you should not have to search the sports sites to find something about the LPGA tour.  They have great players, play exciting golf, and are much more pleasing to watch, than those old fogies on the Senior Tour.  Yeah that’s right I wrote senior not Champions.  That was a nice marketing idea by that tour, to keep people from realizing that these guys have a hard time tying their shoes.  So, Ladies take charge and get your tour on the sports map where it belongs.

Golf: Season Wrap Up

Even though there is golf yet to be played in Western Pennsylvania, the handicap season ended on November 15th and the golf will be hit and miss for the rest of the year. It is time to look back at the golf season of 2019 and see what was good, bad, and indifferent.  This was the year of 100% mental golf, and it was neither a success or a complete failure. I learned some things, but in the end, did not make much progress in improving my game.  I started the year with a 4.1 index and ended with a 4.8.  My highest was 5.2, and the lowest, other than my start, was 4.2.   Before I summarize the year, lets break down each section of my game for 2019.

Driver.  This was the best part of my game.   I would have a bad driving day once in awhile, but for the most part I drove the ball well, and kept my driving distance steady, and did not lose any distance this year.

Fairway wood.   Contrast this with the worst part of my game.  Fairway woods gave me the most problem for the year.  I bought some new 15 degree clubs, and they made things worse, and I went back to my old Orlimar fairway woods, of 16 and 20 degree, and this seemed to help some.  It was with the 15 and 16 degree clubs, that I had the most trouble getting the ball airborne.  This part of my game contributed a lot, to seeing my index go up .7 points.

Irons.  I had a fair year with the irons.   I changed to Titleist AP3 irons with regular graphite shafts.  Theses clubs had strong lofts so a 5 iron was like hitting a 4.5 iron.  These clubs gave me such increased  distance, that I had a hard time adjusting.  I did have some really good days with these irons and will continue to play them.  Even though I have been playing them, since Mid May, I still feel I am going through a learning process with them.

Short game.  This part of my game improved.  I got rid of the chip yips ( another blog) and I am getting better around the greens.  My sand game is still bad but hoping for improvement. One of the things that have helped me is, I went back to using a 60 degree wedge with zero bounce.    This club is the old Cleveland 485 60 degree wedge.  I acquired the club about 2 months ago and have been doing betting around the greens. I use to play this club all the time, and I am glad I went back to it.   Will discuss zero bounce more in another blog.

Putting.   This was the most inconsistent part of my game.  Most recently I have had a good run of putting, which has helped with some low scores, but not quite enough to offset some bad ball striking.  Again getting rid of the yips on the greens has helped immensely.

To summarize, the biggest problem I had this year was where my bad shots went.   I had a very prolonged slump in golf, that started at the end of 2015 and lasted until about June of 2017, and this was the same problem, except then it was much worse.  I had about 10 to 15 rounds in 2016 and 2017, where I did not break 80, but my handicap score was between 76 and 79 due equitable stroke control.  I had the same thing happen in 2019, but not as often. When you top a ball 80 yards, or hit it so far off line, that its in the woods, scoring goes out the window.  My fairway wood game was this bad.  I would hit some iron shots, and  trap shots, that were just as horrible.    So that will be the first goal, to hit better bad shots.  Easier said than done, but I will give it a try.  Now to 100% mental golf.  I am still undecided about how to split the game up between the mental and physical side, and I hope to come up with a solution soon.  First I thought it was a 50-50 split.  Then, I went all the way over to 100% mental, and still think that is possible.  It is difficult to remove the physical side of the game entirely.  Maybe I should go a long with Yogi Berra, when he said, baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical. The older I get, which is getting pretty old, I feel that golf will be that mystery game,  I will never solve.  Maybe in Wonderland, tornado anyone.

Sports: Steelers vs. Giants December 1963. First and Last Chance at Glory.

The 1963 pro football season was odd and sad, and it was  the Steelers first chance at glory since pro football had become the up and coming sport, really challenging baseball as the number one sport in America. The season was sad because on November 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was sad for the Steelers because in May of that year Big Daddy Lipscomb had died of a heroin overdose.    The season was odd because the Steelers had 3 ties that year.  They tied the Philadelphia Eagles twice and Eagles only won 2 other games all year.  See, it just not Mike Tomlin teams that play down to their competition. The other tie was against the Chicago Bears  who would go on and win the NFL Championship that year. In 1963, if teams played to a tie, the NFL looked at the game as if it had never been played.  Going into the last week of the season, the Steelers record was 7 wins, 3 losses, and those 3 ties.  But their “real” record was just 7 and 3.  They would play the New York Giants at Yankee stadium, whose record was 10 and 3, and by today’s rules of ties, where ties count as a .5 loss and .5 win they would have the division clinched.  The Steelers record would have been 8.5 and 4.5.  Even with a win they would be 9.5 and 4.5 and the Giants would have been 10 and 4, which would have won the division.  But this was 1963, and the Steelers were very much alive.  With a win they would be 8 and 3 for a percentage .728 and that would beat  a 10-4 Giant team with .714.  Despite how unfair this would seem, the NFL did not change the tie rule until 1972.  We Steeler fans did not care.  This was best chance for the Steelers to win their first division title since 1947 when they lost a play off game to the Philadelphia Eagles 21 to 0.  But alas, the Steelers lost 33 to 17 and as a 13 year old I was devastated.  I felt we were never in the game as my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white TV.  But low and behold I found a radio broadcast of the game on You Tube and well the Steelers were in the game more than I realized.

The Giants were the kings of the Eastern Division, having played in the NFL Championship game 5 out of the last 7 years.  Unfortunately they won only 1 of those games, the 1956 Championship game beating the Chicago Bears, 47 to 7.  Then they lost 2 to the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts, and 2 more to the Green Bay Packers.  If they had done better in the championship games, they would be considered one of the best dynasties in football.  They would go on to lose to the Chicago Bears 14 to 10, in 1963. They had lost to the Steelers in the second game of the year 31 to 0, but Y. A. Tittle their Hall of Fame quarterback was out with injury.  The Giants were a veteran seasoned group led by  Tittle, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff,  and Andy Robustelli.  The Steelers were also a veteran group, thanks to their coach Buddy Parker, who was the precursor to George Allen, giving up draft choices for veterans.  In fact it was not uncommon for the Steelers to trade away all their draft choices while Parker was the head coach.  The Steelers did draft one player in 1963 by the name of Andy Russell, not bad for a 16th round pick.  The Steelers were led on offense by quarterback Ed Brown,  running back John Henry Johnson, and wide receivers Buddy Dial and Gary Ballman.  On defense they had Clendon Thomas, Myron Pottios and John Baker.  Now to the game.

The game could not have started out worse for the Steelers, as running back Theron Sapp fumbled the ball on the opening play, and the Giants recovered.  But the Steeler defense was able to hold the Giants and Don Chandler kicked a 34 yard field goal, which was a 34 yard field goal since the goal posts were on the goal line in 1963. The goal posts were not as long either but that’s a story for another blog.   Gary Ballman returned the ensuing kick off all the way to the Giant 28 yard line.  But the Steelers could not move the ball and Lou Michaels missed a 30 yard field goal. The Giants on their next series fumbled the ball right back to the Steelers and they had the ball  at the Giant 33 yard line.   Ed Brown hit Gary Ballman around the 10 yard line and was getting ready to score but lost control of the ball and fumbled it into the end zone and the Giants  returned it  to their own 34 yard line.  The Giants had a third and inches on their own 44 yard line and threw a 16 yard pass to Del Shofner and then  on the next play, Tittle  hit Shofner again for a 41 yard touchdown and when Chandler missed the extra point they led 9 to 0.  On the next series Brown threw an interception and the Giants had the ball on their own 44. The Giants moved down the field to the Pittsburgh 5 yard line, first and goal.  The Giants tried a halfback pass with Frank Gifford but wound up having 3 laterals, yes that’s 3 laterals,  and finally Y. A. Tittle wound up throwing the ball incomplete. To make matters worse the Giants were called for holding, which was a 15 yard penalty in 1963.   On the next play Andy Russel intercepted a Tittle pass, and the Steelers had the ball on their own 4 yard line. Mercifully the 1st quarter ended, with the Steelers losing 2 fumbles and throwing an interception, and the Giants fumbled twice, but lost only one, and threw one interception. The second quarter did not go much better. After an exchange of punts, the Steelers had to punt again, and the Giants fumbled, with the Steelers recovering on the Giants 24 yard line.  On two running plays the Steelers make 9.5 yards and it is 3rd and inches.  The Steelers do not make an inch in 2 plays and turn the ball over to the Giants on the 14 yard line. On their next possession  the Steelers  move the ball to the 37 yard of the Giants and are stalled with a 4th and 7. They elect to kick a field goal and back up quarterback Bill Nelson fumbled the snap and the Giants take over at their own 44.  The Giants move quickly. Long pass to Shofner to the Steeler 13 and then a TD pass to Joe Morrison and Giants lead 16-0.   But just like in todays game, with only 1:05 to go in the half, the Steelers move right down the field and Lou Michaels finally makes a field goal of 27 yards, and it is 16-3 at the half.   The Giants don’t move the ball to start the half and punt to the Steelers and they start at their own 34 yard.   On third and 2 at the 42 John Henry Johnson finally breaks one and goes 48 yards to the Giants 10 yard line, first and goal.  A holding penalty pushes the Steelers back to the 25 and on third down Brown finds Ballman in the end zone from 21 yards out, and with the conversion the score is 16 to 10 about one third  through the third quarter and we have a football game.  The Giants hold on the kick off and have to start on the 14 yard line.  But then it’s slam bang thank you mam.  Third and 7 from the 17 yard line,  30 yards to Gifford to the 47, then 25 yards to Gifford to the 22, and TD to Morrison from the 22.  Three plays, 83 yards, touchdown, its 23 to 10 Giants. The Steelers go 3 and out, when they try a long pass on 3rd and 2 and the avalanche continued.  First and 10 on the Giants 36, first play 31 yard pass with a face mask penalty tacked on, it is first and 10 on the Steeler 16 yard line.  Fifteen yard pass to Gifford to the one, and Joe Morrison over the top for his 3rd TD of the game,  and Giants lead 30 to 10 and the game is essentially over.   The Steelers have a nice drive but Brown throws an interception in the end zone.  The Steelers score on their next possession on a 40 yard bomb to Buddy Dial.  The Steelers try another field goal, for what ever reason and of course it was missed from 48 yards.   The Giants start on their own 8 yard line because of a clip and go on a long ball control drive that results in no points but eats up enough of the clock and then Chandler adds a field goal with about 2 minutes to go that locks up the game, and sends the Giants to the Eastern Division Championship and a date with the Chicago Bears.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Steelers. In the first half they were inside the Giants 25 yard line four times and came away with only 3 points. Ed Brown did not have a good game and was crucified for it, but did not get a lot of help. Critical fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals hurt them  as much as anything.  Myron Cope related the story that he knew that Ed Brown was not going to have a good game, because he was not seen at the favorite watering hole for the Steelers that week.  Cope deducted that this was not a good week for Brown to take the game too seriously, and stop drinking for that week.  He may have been right, but the loss was a team effort.  But the game was better, than I remembered as a devastated teen in 1963.  For both teams, it was their last shot at glory for awhile .  This would end the reign of the New York Giants as the elite team of the Eastern Division, in a big way.  It would take 23 seasons before the Giants would win the division they were in and then would go on to win the Super Bowl.  In that 23 year span the Giants had only 6 winning seasons and 2 seasons where they played 500 ball.  They fell long and hard.   The Steelers would fall apart in 60’s winning only  19 games in the next 6 seasons.  But we all know what happened in the 70’s as the Steelers became the elite franchise.  It would have been nice to see that team of Buddy Parker’s beat the Giants on a cold and half frozen field, at Yankee Stadium, that would have sent the Giants to their 23 year swoon, one season early.

Sports: College Football Saturday Two Games Four Teams 8-0

Today there are two big games in college football, with four teams having the same record of 8 wins and 0 losses.  The games have completely different significance when deciding the final four in the College Football Playoffs. The first game will see Penn St. playing the University of Minnesota, one of the surprise teams of the year.   The second game will see perennial powers LSU and Alabama facing off in Tuscaloosa. All four teams are undefeated and untied at 8-0.  Of the two games, the Penn State vs. Minnesota game is the much more significant.  The team that loses, will be virtually eliminated from the football playoffs, whether they like it or not. If Penn St. loses today, but wins the rest of the their games and beats Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship Game,  they would still need some losses from other teams to get into the final four.  The same thing can be said for Minnesota.   On the other hand the only way the Alabama-LSU game becomes this significant is if the game happens to be a blow out.  As long as the game is reasonably close and the losing team runs the table they will get into the four team playoff.  The loser of this game may have  a better chance of getting into the playoffs, because they do not have to worry about losing the SEC championship game.   Such is the goofiness of college football, that everyone seems to accept. It is fine to decide which 4 teams make the  play offs, based on subjective decisions, made by people behind close doors.

The BCS system was a far superior system to pick teams to make a playoff. It had to be tweaked once, and the BCS system had only one flaw.  It was  allowed to pick only two teams. When the NCAA finally decided on a four team playoff , they fouled it all up by going to a committee to pick the four teams.   The committee usually gets praise for their selections, but the No 1 team has never won in 5 tries.   The number 4 team has won twice.   Seven of the ten semi final games have not been all that close with 4 being real blow outs.  Let’s face it, most of time the committee has not picked the right 4 teams, and have not ranked them very well. The committee doesn’t need tweaked, it needs to be dissolved.  We should go back to the BCS system to pick the teams.  What would even be better would be to go to an 8 team playoff.  People feel that this is too many games for college players to play, and I agree completely.  The simple solution is to take away one regular season game.  Every one of these football powers plays at least one game against a very small school, that they blow away.  The excuse is that these schools reap the benefits of the gate receipts, at these large sold out stadiums.  Let them share in the much greater revenue of the quarter final games of a college football playoff,  and avoid the pounding they take playing one of these games.  Have the five conference champions and the top 3 teams in a BCS ranking system that are not conference champions be the 8 teams in the play offs.  A system that would make two games, where all four teams are 8-0, equally significant.

Golf: Wrist Cock, Part III

It’s hard to believe, but the last time I wrote about the wrists in the golf swing was December of 2015 The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer.  Since that time, I still feel the same, that the  wrists are  the most misunderstood aspect of the golf swing.  I have changed my mind on what the golfer should do, in regards to the position of the club face at the top of the swing.  Back in 2015, I said just let the wrists do what they are going to do, and don’t worry about.  But after doing some experimenting, on what the wrists do in my own golf swing,  I think I can come up with some recommendations on what to do, depending on your clubhead position at the top of the golf swing.  But first lets briefly review what the wrists can do and why this is so confusing to the golfer.

Rather than to get into such terms as supination and pronation, and other wristy terms, lets just take a look at the thumb, when you grip the club.  Just grip the club with one hand, either one is fine, and put your thumb straight down the shaft.  Now by just moving your wrists, you can make your thumb do six things.    You can move your thumb straight up and down.  You can turn your thumb to the left and to the right.  Finally you can roll your thumb to look at the right side of your thumb, and then the left side of your thumb.  These are very distinct moves.  The problem is, that the wrists can do any of these moves partially and some fully during the golf swing.  This results in the clubface being in various positions at top of swing.  None of these positions are wrong.  First let’s look at the two extreme positions.   The clubface is closed or you will hear the term shut faced at the top.  It’s easy to tell this position. At the top of the swing the club face is pointed to the sky.  The two best examples of this position are Dustin Johnson and Brooke Henderson.    Then there is the clubface that is open at the top of the swing.  This position will see the toe of the club pointed to the ground.  This position you can see in the swings of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and in today’s game Webb Simpson.  In modern professional golf, most players will use the  shut faced or closed position. The open position is the least popular today.   You will see many positions in between, with some players  being square at the top of the swing. You would think this would be ideal, but certainly these players are not dominating the tour.  It really doesn’t matter what they are doing, as long as you know what you are doing at the top of the swing. You should also know the basic shot pattern that your position tends to create. Then you need to decide if you  should  make a conscious change.

The first modern great golfer with the closed clubface at the top was Arnold Palmer.  He did this because it helped him to keep from hooking, and most  of the shut faced players today, are faders of the golf ball.  Even though the club face is closed at the top of the swing, as the club starts down the wrists will rotate the club head in a clockwise fashion, delaying the release of the wrists, which prevents  the toe of the club head turning over resulting in a hook.  Despite being shut faced at the top, Palmer, because of his strength in the hands and wrists still hooked the ball. The shut faced position  helped him to keep from duck hooking.  Hogan had an extremely weak grip combined with being open at top, was his way of obtaining a full release of the wrists without worrying  about hooking the ball.   Sam Snead,  also had big strong hands and wrists, but a beautiful graceful swing, had no trouble drawing the ball from the open at the top club position.  So what is the recreational golfer to do?  The first thing to do, is to determine what is your natural wrist action in the golf swing.  Through video, or just stopping  and looking  at the top of your backswing, determine what is your club face position at the top.  Face pointing to the sky you are closed.  Toe of the clubhead pointing down to the ground, the face is opened.  Somewhere in between you are getting closer to square but try and determine if you are closer to open or shut faced.  It may be perfectly square.  If you are closed at the top, and hitting relatively straight shots, maybe with a little fade or draw, then you need to do nothing.   But if you are closed at the top and hitting a lot of shots to the right and slicing like crazy then maybe you better square up or go open at the top.  This is unnatural for you, so how do you do it.  At the start of your backswing, feel a distinct rolling of the wrists so that you feel that the right palm is facing the sky as your hands reach hip high.  This will easily get your club face in the open position at the top of the swing.  Now on the downswing the toe of the clubhead will begin to rotate in a counter clockwise direction which will help you draw the ball or hit it fairly straight, with a nice full release.  As you get use to this position at top of the swing, then you may not have to rotate the wrists so early in the backswing, but whatever works is fine.   If you are already an open at the top player and you are hitting everything pretty straight or with a slight draw or fade then you don’t want to change a thing.  But if you are open at top and hitting a bunch of duck hooks to the left, then you might want to try to get  closed at the top of the swing.  In order to do this you will need to rotate your wrists in the early part of the swing so you feel your right palm is pointing to the ground at the hip high junction of the swing.  Once you get the feel of your new position then you may not need to do such a distinct move at the start of the swing.   If you find you are somewhere in between but having a hooking or slicing problem then follow the above instructions accordingly. Get shut faced to help a hook and get open to help a slice.

What about doing this for the type of shot you want to play or the situation you are in.  This is what I am doing at the moment.  If trouble is on the left or I want something straight or with a little fade, then I will go shut faced which is more my natural swing. I will go shut faced if I want to take something off an iron shot.   If the trouble is on the right then I will go with an open face at the top. If I want to draw the ball and get a little more power then I will go to the open face position at the top. Since the moves of the wrists are infinite, the possibilities of what you can do with golf ball is infinite.  But in order to get all this benefit to your game you must use your wrists first, and then know what your natural position is at the top of the swing, and go from there.  Good luck, and here is to lower scores.