Read an Excerpt
I want to tell you, right off, that this is not another boring golf book. It is not about the fifty-six reasons to eschew the interlocking grip. Nor is it about the one true path toward a more perfect address. What this book is about I can say in three words: full throttle golf.
So what the hell is full throttle golf, you ask? It's about playing with power and confidence, but also humor and fun. It's about being who you are out on the golf course, not who some staid golf manual says you should be. It's about driving for show and driving for dough, if you and your partners are so inclined. Finally, it's about being competitive, about unleashing the tiger that is within you.
When I think of tigers in the wild, I think about how strong they are and how self-sufficient. Nobody else is going to take care of them, so they have to go after everything they need or want themselves. I believe that this is also the best way to play golf, whether you're a man or a woman. No one else can make the shot for you and you certainly can't win if you don't first believe that you can. When you know what you want, you have to trust yourself that you have what it takes to get to the finish line.
My fianc, Leo Cuellar, first used the phrase "unleash the tiger" the week after the 1994 U.S. Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Michigan. That year I became the first woman ever to shoot a 63 in an Open and the first man or woman to reach 13 under par--but I eventually lost the championship to Patty Sheehan. It was pretty crushing at the time--winning a U.S. Open is probably the greatest accomplishmentany golfer can have and I hope someday to achieve it--but I vowed not to let the loss deter me.
The week after losing the Open, I found myself once again in a position to win at the Ping Welch's championship outside of Boston. After making the turn on the last day of the tournament, I realized I was in a fight to the finish with two of the great players on the LPGA Tour, Juli Inkster and Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. When I birdied the tenth hole to go into a three-way tie, I knew right then that it was make or break time. I didn't want to do what I did at the Open and Leo must have read my mind. He came up to me and said, "Okay honey, come on, it's time to unleash the tiger."
I birdied four out of the next seven holes for a back nine 31 and a final round score of 66, enough to win the tournament by four strokes. I had unleashed the tiger; I had played the game the way I knew I could. I had no fear. I was aggressive and I went for the stick. I hung tough. And it worked.
I've always tried to live my life without regret, to go for what I wanted and not to leave anything in the tank. I've had great opportunities to do this in areas outside of golf, as well. Last year I flew with the elite Navy group the Blue Angels. We hit 700 mph--just under the sound barrier--and did a near vertical ascent with seven G-forces squashing me back into my seat. We also did aerial loops, dives and a simulated bombing run. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life. And I didn't even throw up!
A couple of years ago I also had a chance to drag-race at Daytona Raceway in Daytona Beach, Florida. I took a class (and earned my racing license) along with five PGA Tour players, including Davis Love III and Bruce Lietzke. And then I went out and beat all of them on the drag strip. Take my word for it, to go from zero to 164 miles an hour in less than six seconds is absolutely otroligt! (that's Swedish for "unbelievable!"). So, yes, I love speed, and though many of my friends are afraid to get in a car with me, I have never had an accident. For that matter, I have never even had a speeding ticket--although back in my hometown I do know most of the policemen and policewomen by name.
It is definitely true that because I am a professional athlete, I get chances to do things most people don't, but everybody has the chance to live life to the fullest, which is what it's all about as far as I'm concerned. This is how I play golf, too, and how I think more people, both men and women, should play the game: without excuses, with fun, with power and, above all, always at full throttle.
I wanted to convey all these things in a new kind of book about golf. And I especially wanted to address myself to women golfers. In the past, too many books for the female golfer dwelt mainly on technique, and rarely on distance or power. But if you've been following the LPGA Tour at all for the past few years, you should know by now that women can, and do, play with power. With better physical training and better equipment, women golfers--and not just the pros--are learning to use their drivers, their woods and their long irons, and are not apologizing for it. So the tips that I give in this book are mainly for those who want to put a little more muscle into their swing and get a lot more out of their game.
This book, however, is not just about the new power game, but about how to enjoy being competitive at the same time. And while you're being competitive, how to also have fun.
Because I'm what is called a "feel" player, I want to teach you how to do for yourself some of the things golfers often take for granted or simply overlook. Like visualizing your target, having a pre-shot routine, thinking your way around a golf course, judging what club to take and also how to create the shot you need, and perhaps most important, taking care of your game not only physically and technically, but mentally as well.
Maybe the most important bit of advice in this book is about how to find your own emotional comfort zone out on the golf course: recognizing what works best for you in how you approach and play the game. I've never believed in cookie-cutter golf. For me, golf isn't about always being serious and grinding out each of my rounds. It isn't about being a robot out on the golf course or about always having to keep everything under wraps emotionally. I'm not like that in life and I can't be like that in golf.
I really believe that sometimes you can be too much in control and therefore not open to being creative or to having fun. Striving always to wear the same game face is one of those traditional beliefs in sports that I question. That's not me and never has been. I've had to accept who I am out on the golf course--emotional, fiery and yes, sometimes just a bit crazy. But I've found out for me that it's better to be expressive than to try and hold everything in.
Anyone who plays the game, no matter at what level, needs to find out who they are and what they're like out on the golf course and then honor that. Instead of feeling forced to always act and react a certain way, we each need to find out what works best for us as individuals. It used to be that women acting aggressive or competitive in sports--especially in golf--was a no-no. Not anymore.
So my first recommendation is: throw away those pink golf bags, ladies, and definitely those golf skirts. (I tried wearing one once and let me tell you, I never knew that bending down to pick up a golf ball could be so complicated and so risqu!). No more thinking you always have to lay up. No more always holding back. Be a little bit daring for a change. Maybe even try the blue tees. Empty the tank. Put the pedal to the metal. Be yourself. And let's rock and roll.
Swing Time: Legs Are a Girl's Best Friend
Sooo, now that I've got your head in order, let's get your swing in gear, too.
There are an awful lot of things about golf that seem counterintuitive. One of them, certainly, is the belief that the harder you swing the farther your ball will go. We all want to hit the golf ball a mile, so we often grip the club tighter, swing higher and faster . . . and top the ball about fifty yards. When we swing harder we usually end up making two fatal mistakes: we swing up and we swing with our arms. Nothing will kill a good round quicker than those two things.
Imagine standing perfectly still and trying to throw a javelin or a baseball with just your arm. Neither would go very far. Same thing with a golf club. Swing with just your arms and the ball goes about thirty yards. The arms are powerless without the support of the body behind them.
Women who are self-conscious about their game make this mistake frequently. In an effort to stay in control, they don't incorporate their entire body into the swing. By and large, women are too tentative in their ball striking, too afraid of hitting the ball into the ground, and it shows because more often than not they top the ball or hit it thin.
But when women do try to hit the ball harder, they usually use their arms too much. And because they are trying so hard to get their arms around in the swing, and get under the ball to try and lift it up, they tend to have too much movement in their lower body. Too much movement in the body results in the club going too far back and a lot of energy is wasted in the downswing.
For women, especially, who want to hit the ball with more power, there are two essential things to always keep in mind.
1) Maintaining a low center of gravity.
2) Keeping the club away from the body on the backswing.
First things first. Your balance is in your stance and your center of gravity is in the middle of that stance--in your stomach and your buttocks. You might be wincing at this news--the last thing you want to think about when you're out playing golf is your body--but it's not about how you look, it's about how you set up to the ball. If your parents were the type who were always scolding you to stand up straight, count your blessings. Golf is about posture.
When you set up to the ball, make sure your head is over your feet, not behind them. Flex your knees and keep the flex the same throughout your swing. If you do, your hips will stay level too.
Like baseball, rowing and a lot of other sports, golf seems to require great arm strength. But it's not the arms that are most important in golf, it's the legs. This is good news, since women's legs are almost as strong as men's, and much stronger than women's arms. The reason our legs are so important in golf is because most of the power generated in the swing comes from a stable and well-balanced center of gravity. Again, that center is located primarily in our buttocks, and this is where we get the support--the stable base--for our golf swing. The stronger and more stable our lower body, the better chance we have to generate the centrifugal force that powers that tiny little white sphere through the air.
A stable lower body will generate more speed, more torque in the swing and thus more power. Women often center their gravity too high and thus have less balance when they swing. The lower you can get your center of gravity the better. If you are a tall person like me, and you have long legs, you need to bend your knees a bit more at the address, make sure your feet are as far apart as your shoulder blades and stick your butt out a bit more so that your center is as low as possible.
For women with shorter legs, you don't need to bend your knees as much in order to lower your center of gravity--you're already closer to the ground. Once you've centered yourself with your stomach and your buttocks, you're almost ready to start your swing.
Now forget everything I've said about how unimportant the arms are. The arms alone cannot generate power, but with a stable body in place the arms can deliver the centrifugal force needed to launch your ball--as long as you keep those arms away from your body.
Did you ever play tetherball growing up? That's the game where you use your hands to swat at a rubber ball that's attached by a long string to the top of a stationary pole. Imagine that that pole is like your lower body: a stable, balanced center of gravity. If I'm holding the tetherball and I want to whip it hard around the pole, I start way on the outside and throw it around in a high, wide arc. The tetherball moves faster that way because it gathers more centrifugal force. It's the same with the golf club. The more of an arc--the farther away from my body the clubhead is--the greater the centrifugal force generated by the swing.
Think about keeping your front arm straight through the backswing. When you get to the top of your swing that front arm will bend slightly. That's okay. Your arm will straighten out on the downswing. At impact you want to have both your arms fully extended and away from your body to maximize power.
Take a look at the example par excellence: Tiger Woods. Tiger's power, first of all, comes mostly from his legs, even though he moves them very little in his backswing. But the width of his swing is crucial to the distance he's able to get on his drives. Tiger's ability to keep the club away from his body means that he generates a tremendous amount of centrifugal force. And when all that force meets the ball on impact . . . well, you know what happens next. I'm not suggesting that we can all hit like Tiger Woods. But you can hit more like Tiger if you remember to keep a low center of gravity and keep your arms away from your body on the backswing.