Monday, December 15, 2014

Build You Swing Around Your Wedges II

A few years ago I started advising anyone who would listen that this is the way to build a competent, consistent golf swing. Hit wedges, lots of wedges. Take the club back halfway, swing through to a full finish.

This is my second post on the subject, hence the quantifier in the title. But the notion is so important that I don’t want to let it be one and done because you might never find that first post. So I’m posting the idea again.

Actually, I should post it every other week, it’s that important, but that probably would create a different impression in your mind than emphasis, so I won’t.

There are three reasons why this is such an important drill.

One. It teaches you how to bring the club into the hitting area, through impact, and into your follow-through. If you want to work hard on the Six Fundamentals, this is the drill to use. Because it is a short swing, you can concentrate on getting those parts of it just right.

Two. It teaches you how to hit your longer pitch shots, probably the last shot recreational golfers learn to hit well. You can drop a lot of strokes off your score if you expect to get down in three from 75 yards, and maybe two, than down in four and maybe three.

Three. This is the big one. If you hit enough of these shots, you will create a swing feeling in your mind that is not tied in any way to your technique. You train your mind to just step up and swing automatically. Believe me, you will play much more consistently if you can learn to do that.

Drill. Take your sand wedge to the range. Just that one club. Make four dry (no ball in front of you) half-wedge swings. Swing halfway going back, and follow through to a full finish. After the four dry swings, pull a ball forward and make the same swing without thinking of the ball. Just repeat what you did four times.

When making your dry swings, do not take too long between them. Take just a few seconds to get set up again and swing. You’re not rushing, but what I want you to avoid is giving yourself enough time to think about what you’re doing. I don’t want you to think. I want you to swing.

Then when you pull the ball over to hit it, keep up that same rhythm instead of thinking, “OK, now I’m going to hit a golf ball,” or anything else. Just swing.

Say you have a small bucket with 30 golf balls. That will be 150 swings. That’s a lot of practice which will pay off if repeated frequently. If you do this all winter, every time you go to the range, I guarantee your swing will be miles better next spring than it is now.

Heck, you can even do this drill, without golf balls, of course, in your living room.* Put down a throw rug underneath your club so you don’t scuff your carpet. Swing five times and take a break for a minute. Repeat nine times. Do this daily, or as often as you can get to it, and you’ll get in a LOT of practice that will pay off more than you know.

And like I said, your swing will be miles better next spring than it is now.

In advance, you’re welcome.

* What about the ceiling? I’m 6’6” tall, and with a sand wedge I don’t even come close to hitting my 8-foot ceiling at any time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Little Squaring-Up Move

I’ve been working on a move for the past few months that many pros say is forbidden for amateurs, but I say to you, go for it.

When you lead the clubhead into the ball, your hands are ahead. I’ve been telling you this for years now. It's in my Six Fundamentals post. Keep doing that, but add on one little thing. At the last moment before impact, square up the left palm to the intended starting line.

It looks like what Johnny Miller is doing in this image from his Fixing Your Swing video.

The reason teaching pros want you to stay away form this move is that it is very hard to get right. It is the ultimate timing move. A little early or late, and you’re done in. You can't get this right physically. It's all in your mind.

Fortunately, your mind is powerful. You can teach it to do anything. What happens in a very short time in real life, you can learn to slow down to your perception and perform at your leisure. Timing ceases to be an issue because you have all the time you need to get it right.

To perform this move, think to yourself, before you begin your swing, “square left hand at impact.” Let your unconscious mind take over and it will direct your hand into that square position at impact. Trust me, that’s how it works.

If you intentionally try to square the left hand, maybe you will, maybe you won’t, and it gets harder and harder to do as the round progresses.

But if you just give the order before you begin moving and trust your unconscious mind, stay out of its way, it’s easy.

A couple of notes. I had to open my stance just a bit to get this to line up. Also, my left-hand grip is pretty neutral already. Squaring up my palm just puts it where it started from. If you have a strong grip, this tip might not be a good idea.

Why would you want to learn to do this? To make the game easier and more predictable. When you have a way of squaring up the clubface that you deliberately control, and that’s the real purpose of this move, you will hit straighter shots more often.

Bonus. By squaring up the left hand, which squares up the clubface, you give the ball a direct hit, not a glancing hit, and more likely than not on the center of the clubface. That is how you get the maximum distance out of your swing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Concept of the Golf Swing

I’m writing this post for the better golfers among my readers, the ones who shoot in the low 80s and high 70s. While it is true that lowering your score from here depends on improving your short game and putting, don’t think that you are finished with your swing just yet.

Up to this point you have likely thought that the purpose of the swing has been to hit the ball. Your swing starts at the ball and ends when the ball is struck.

Thinking like that keeps you stuck in technical details that makes you swing not fully reliable. While you hit a large number of good shots, you aren’t really sure beforehand that you’re going to hit one.

You might be thinking that one more tip that will pull everything together. What you need instead is a new conception of the swing.

The golf swing is built on mechanics and the ones that you have put together to build your swing may not be ignored. But the point of learning the swing is to play golf. And you play your best golf not by doing what it takes to hit the ball, but by doing what it takes to swing through to the finish.

You might have heard a professional golfer say that he just swings and the ball gets in the way. That’s correct, but let’s go deeper than that.

When a top-rank golfer stands over the ball, he feels the feeling of a good shot. He already knows how it should feel and his body responds to that feeling. Other golfers have no such feeling ahead of time which is why their good shots come as such a surprise.

A good golfer plays the shot based on his feeling of a good golf shot and plays through to the finish. The lesser golfer plays the shot based on his knowledge of good technique.

All this, again, begins with the setup. The right setup allows correct movements to occur and prevents the wrong ones. But more than that, it creates the feel of a good shot, which is what the player uses to play the game.

So if you have gotten to single-digit golf but seem to be stuck, it might well be that your technique is sufficient. What you need to do next is to adopt a different conception of what you’re doing when you approach the ball.

These ideas come from the book On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer. It is likely the most valuable golf instruction book ever written.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Ball Makes No Difference

I played golf with my grandson (15) yesterday. He is getting the hang of things, hitting the ball long and straight on occasion. Much of the time, though, he hits it fat -- ground first, ball second -- the opposite of what is supposed to happen. So I did a bit of looking.

Note: he plays left-handed, so this analysis reads correctly.

I stood behind him and held up a golf club in front of me so it bisected his body vertically as he got into his address position for a rehearsal swing. He shifted a little bit to the left of the golf shaft on the backswing, and handsomely to the right of it on his follow-through. His clubhead brushed the ground just like it should. So far, so good.

I watched again when he stepped up to the ball. Same thing on the backswing, but on the through swing and follow-through, he didn’t move at all. When he finished his swing, his body was still bisecting the shaft, proving that his weight had remained on his left side.

In addition, his swing slowed down a bit. Not much, but enough to be noticeable.

What this means to me that his mind was on the ball. Now there is something for his club to hit, everything changes. He wants to be sure he doesn’t miss it, and that’s what he ends up doing.

Like I said before, there are times when he hits a beautiful-sounding shot that goes long and straight, and you can’t do that by luck alone.

A lot of things go through a golfer’s mind, and on the occasions when nothing much does, we succeed.

But when we think the purpose of the golf swing is to hit the ball, it all falls apart. When we try to get the ball in the air, we don’t. When we try to make sure of contact, we mishit or miss altogether.

There is nothing about having a ball in front of you that should change anything you do with your golf swing.

Yet only the very best players, the low single-digit handicappers and better, manage to play like that. The rest of us remain ball-bound.

There are two cures for this. My grandson applied one on the eighth hole, which slopes upward to the green. With the ball on an upslope, you do not want to swing along the upslope, but swing into the hill. I showed him the difference and he did just that.

The result was him hitting the ball first, the ground second, and he got the cleanest strike of the day and the most powerful, straight shot out of it. Now just do that on flat ground and he’s got it.

The second cure is more difficult, because it has to do with your mind. You need a new conception of the golf swing. You can only get so good by thinking that the swing is about hitting the golf ball, and it will take you along time to get there if you do.

The correct conception is based on the feel of a good golf shot. The best players know before they step up to the ball how it all should feel. Lesser players become aware of the feeling after the shot has been made.

You can start playing this way right now if you want to. There is no rule that says you have to be a 5 before you do. Here’s how to do it: instead of your technique leading up to impact, it should lead you to a satisfying follow-through.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tiger Woods, Media Critic

Well, just when golf is getting non-existent at the recreational level (see: weather) and boring at the professional level, Tiger comes to our rescue, as we always hope he will.

This time, it’s his prickly (putting it mildly) response to Dan Jenkins’s mock interview with Woods that is on the newsstands in the December edition of Golf Digest.

Jenkins is a serious golf writer whose side job is as a devastating satirist of the sports world. All Jenkins did is (a) ask Woods a few question, questions we would like to ask Tiger ourselves, and since Tiger wasn’t there to answer the questions, (b) made up Tiger’s answers.

These answers are not, of course, what Tiger would have said had he actually been asked the questions, but they are the real answers to the questions.

Which upsets Tiger greatly. Mark Steinberg, too, but more on him later.

I think it’s a really funny interview, and any other subject would too. But not Tiger. The Woods image, or what is left of it, is sacrosanct and is not to be trifled with without his permission.

But Jenkins went ahead anyway, the little imp.

Now assuming you paused to reading this post to read the interview (go ahead, the link’s right there, I can wait), please tell me what is off? What doesn’t hit home?

About the only thing we don’t know is for real is the comment about what a lousy tipper Woods is. But if that’s it, what is all the fuss?

Like Woods writing a 600-word invective (OK, I just assumed Tiger wrote it). In a moment of great irony, Woods said "the concocted article was below the belt."

Below the belt, yeah, but it wasn't Jenkins's article that was below the belt. It was you and Rachel Uchitel, Jaimee Grubbs, Jamie Jungers, Mindy Lawton, oh, you get the point.

Like Steinberg, his agent, releasing a letter complaining about the abysmal journalistic standards GD sunk to by printing the “interview” and demanding a formal apology.

Good grief. Woods and Steinberg still think when they say “Jump,” people are still saying “How high?” All that was over in November 2009.

You know the irony of all this, that Woods and Steinberg are just too self-righteous and opaque to get? That if they had ignored it, there would have been no controversy and in two weeks the interview would have been lost to history.

But just like Jennifer Lawrence, who made a stink about the nudes of her being published online so everyone would know they could be found and went to stare at them for an hour, while the other three women who also had nudes posted of them by the same hacker and said nothing and I’ll bet you don’t even know what their names are, W&S elevated Jenkins’s work to the front pages. They did his PR work for him!

Talk about a pair of boobs.

Tiger Woods. I just love this guy. He so doesn’t get it. He’s grist for every writer’s mill.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Importance of Lie Angle

The golf club's shaft runs down to the hosel, which takes off at an angle to the clubhead. That angle, called the lie angle, contributes to the direction the ball goes when you hit it, and more.

Golf club manufacturers build standard lie angles into their mass-produced clubs. There’s a good chance the standard lie angles do not fit your physique and swing, just like a suit off the rack in your size fits sort of, but not quite right. Just like you would get that suit tailored, part of a club fitting is getting the lie angle right.

Here’s why lie angle is important. If your clubs are too upright (the lie angle is too large), the club will be tilted toward you at impact, causing the clubface to face to the right of its address position, and the ball will go right. Conversely, if your lie angle is too small, the lie is too flat and you will tend to hit the ball to the left. (See drawing. Left-hand club should read, "Ball will be hit left of target" Right-hand club should read, "Ball will be hit right of target".)

The more lofted the club, the more pronounced this effect is.

In addition, a club with the wrong lie angle will tend to strike the ball with a glancing blow. That will cause you to lose distance, the ball will fly lower and have less backspin, and the strike will never feel solid.

There’s an easy way to check whether the lie angle on your clubs is right for you. Get a Sharpie with a wide tip and draw a line on the ball. Put the ball down so the line is perfectly vertical and against the clubface when you address the ball. Now go ahead and hit the ball.

If the lie angle is correct, you will have a vertical stripe of ink on your clubface. If the lie is too upright, the stripe will lean toward the toe. Too flat, toward the heel. If there’s something wrong, get it corrected. This is a simple adjustment on a loft and lie machine.

The reason you want to get wrong lie angles corrected is that if you don’t, you have to introduce a compensation into your swing to make the ball go straight. It’s a lot easier to fix the club than to adjust your swing.

Get the lie angle on your irons checked every year if you play a lot of golf. Repeated impact against the ground can cause this angle to change.

You can use the theory of lie angles to help you play a shot from a sidehill lie. Imagine the ball being above your feet. When you address the ball, the bank raises the toe of the club, making the clubface point right of the swing path. So, aim left to compensate.

The opposite is true when the ball is below your feet. The clubface is now facing to the left, so aim the shot to the right of your target.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Repeat Your Last Golf Lesson

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago about golf. Big surprise, right? He said he had taken lessons but wasn’t hitting the ball any better. He still didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing.

I asked him whether he had hit the ball better at the end of the lesson than he was at the start. He said, “Oh, yes.” But then a few days after the lesson, he was back where he started.

This is a common problem with a simple cause. In the thirty minutes or hour of the lesson, he had not internalized everything the instructor taught. Say he was taught ten, but he might have picked up only three. So most of the lesson still eludes him.

And no wonder he doesn’t hit the ball any better. He could DO it at the end of the lesson, but he didn’t KNOW it. It hadn’t become his own knowledge.

The solution, like the problem, is simple. Repeat the lesson. Go to the pro and ask for the same lesson over again. Just say, "I didn’t get everything and I want to go over it one more time."

That’s not saying you’re stupid, quite the contrary. It’s being pretty smart. It’s saying to the pro, “Work with me until I understand it.” That’s real smart.

Maybe there are a few things you can learn the first time. Maybe others will take more than one lesson, or two. A good teacher will give you all the time you need to get it. You don’t exasperate a teacher when you say, “Tell me again.” What you do is show the teacher here is someone who truly wants to learn. Teachers appreciate having students like that.

If this is you, if your last lesson just isn’t clicking, don’t blame the teacher and don’t blame yourself. Keep working with the pro until you get it all down.

Look, the touring pros do the same thing. They have their swing coaches who cover the same stuff, over and over again. If the best golfers in the world do this, why wouldn’t you?