Monday, April 21, 2014

Hit Your Driver Straight

The driver is probably the recreational golfer’s most important club. If you put the ball in the fairway, you have a chance for a par. If you miss, the odds are considerably lower. Here is one way to tame a difficult club.

Go to the range and get your bucket of balls. After you’ve warmed up, hit a few pitches, focusing on taking the club straight back and straight through. Your backswing should take you hands only as high as your hip. I’m sure these shots will go straight.

Now take out your driver and use the same swing. Tee up a ball and hit it with the same swing you used to hit those pitches. I’ll bet the ball goes straight. Not very far, because that’s not the point right now, but straight. Hit a few more with that same swing. Resist any urge to hit the ball hard.

Start hitting balls with your driver using progressively longer swings. Hit a few balls at each new swing length. Keep the intervals between each swing length small. We’re working up to your limit of control, a bit at a time.

Your first swing was to where your hands were hip-high. Another benchmark would be where your left arm is parallel to the ground. Don’t go there right away, though. You can put a second swing between those two and make the parallel arm swing your third swing.

Work up gradually, there’s no hurry. You should find all the shots you hit are straight, up in the air, and landing farther away as you length of your swing increases. I repeat: do not try to hit the ball hard. That will ruin what you’re trying to do, and that’s one of the reasons in the first place why you don’t hit your driver straight.

Eventually you will come to a point where golden shots will turn sour (sorry about the mixed metaphor). That’s the point at which your swing is breaking down and you no longer control the clubface. At this point, or beyond, is probably where you have been taking your backswing. Time to let that longer swing go.

Your new swing is the longest swing you can make and keep the clubface, and hence the ball under control. It is likely to be shorter than you are used to. It will feel a lot shorter, but it is really only a bit shorter. This new swing will hit the ball straight, and hit it just as far as before, since you will be hitting the ball off he center of the clubface, which is the main generator of distance.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Par-5 Holes ARe Your Friends

When you need a free par, the par-5 holes are just what you’re looking for. Think of them as extra-long par 4s on which you’re playing for bogey, and you’ll be just fine.

The typical length for a par-5 hole is 485 yards from the white tees, and 415 yards from red tees. This really isn’t very far if you have three shots to cover that distance. The key to getting those pars is keeping the ball in the fairway.

From the white tees, leave your driver in the bag. Hit 200 yards or so off the tee with a hybrid iron or fairway wood. Your second shot with the same club will leave you within 100 yards of the green. From there, it’s a pitch-and-putt par-3 hole. Couldn’t be simpler.

The same strategy will work for shorter hitters playing from the red tees: fairway wood off the tee, fairway wood off the fairway, pitch to the green, putt, putt, par.

Just because the hole is long is no excuse for hitting a driver off the tee, unless you hit your driver very well. You get four chances every round to get an easy par. Don’t blow the opportunity.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Most Important Golf Shot

I wrote a Facebook post the other day about how you should allocate your practice time. It went like this:

“The reason why you should spend more time practicing your short game than your swing is not because the short game is more important. It's because the short game is more complicated. You have short chips, long chips, pitches, and they're all different kinds of shots. On the other hand, you have one swing. So spend an equal amount of time on each kind of shot, and you'll have it right. (Then there's putting.)”

What I’m saying is that you should practice shots, not phases. Then I got to thinking, how would you allocate your time between these shots? You would certainly want to spend more time on the ones that are most important. But which ones are the most important?

So I listed six shot types (swing, long pitch, short pitch, chip, sand, putt) and compared each one with all the others. That’s fifteen comparisons. In the spreadsheet below, I wrote in the cell the most important shot, in my opinion, between the one in the column head and row head.

You can see that “swing” came out on top all five times. You have to jump around a bit, but chip came out on top three times. The list below the table shows how many times each shot type won a comparison. Because “sand” is 0 does not mean it has no importance, but that it is the least important shot of the six.

This list tells me how I should prioritize my practice: swing first, putting second, and so on. It does not tell me how much time I should spend on each shot type. I would suggest working on all of them at least a bit, and spend extra time on the one(s) you are having trouble with at the moment.

This is my take based on how I play right now. Ten years ago, when my swing was less accurate, I was hitting more short pitches into greens than chips, so those shots would have been in different order. As far as sand goes, I’m hardly ever in a bunker.

You might want to make up your own shots type and run your own comparisons. It would show you how to spend your practice time wisely.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Build Natrual Rhythm Into Your Golf Swing

It is a fact that when the rhythm of your swing is right, it is a lot easier to hit the ball consistently well. You can count it out, and I have written often on that method. There is another method, which is perhaps easier in that it follows an energy that is universally available and is always the same -- gravity.

My previous post alluded to this in helping you make your swing feel like it is one continuous motion, not two motions connected somehow. In this post, I want to go into more detail on the gravity-assisted swing to show you how it creates proper rhythm. We’ll do that by refining the transition.

The backswing should be thought of as making the clubhead float upwards, not of lifting it upwards. This style of taking the club back ensures that the golfer stays relaxed. Tension is the enemy of sound movement.

When the backswing has reached the limit that the golfer has selected for it, the backswing movement comes to a gentle, but definite halt. Though your body has stopped moving, your mind might feel like there is still movement in that direction.

The club will still feel like it is floating, and for split-second, it is. At the apex of its flight, when it is moving neither up nor down, it feels weightless in your hands. The handle places no pressure on the palms of your hands at any spot. Now comes the key to achieving natural rhythm.

As the club comes down, the hands must come down with it in such a way that the neutral feeling inside them remains unchanged. If you move down too early, it will feel like you are pushing down on the handle. If your hands are late, you will feel the handle shifting inside your hands a pressing upwards on your left palm.

Your hands must move so they follow the weight of the club. By doing this, the club begins dropping at a constant speed, the acceleration due to gravity. If your hands get the right feeling every time, your rhythm will be the same every time.

Gravity alone is not enough to build up the amount of clubhead speed you need to hit the ball a reasonable distance. You add to that speed with your body turn. At no time, though, can you turn your body so fast that your are leaving the club behind.

There is a third factor in acceleration, leading with your right side. Your right hand should get back to the ball before the clubhead does. Actually, this does not accelerate the swing. It prevents the swing from being decelerated as would be the case if the left side were to push the club through the ball. That actually slows down the swing.

So this is what you practice -- letting the club float downwards from the transition so the neutral feeling in your hands does not change, adding on your body turn without it getting out of harmony with the feeling the hands, and leading the club through the ball with the right side. The half wedge swing from the previous post is the drill to use to learn all of this.

If you master this kind of downswing, the improvement in your ball-striking will be amazing.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Golf Swing Is a Continuous Motion

In my previous post, I said that the golf swing is best described as a continuous straight line motion, and I described the straight line concept. This post explains what I mean by continuous.

If you could start out swinging the club toward the target, loop it around in a full circle, then hit the ball, the swing would be literally continuous. But it’s not. You swing the club back in one direction, stop, and swing the club through the ball in the opposite direction.

Since you’re changing directions, you have to stop moving in one direction before you start moving in another. In that literal sense, in the physical world, the swing is not continuous. It starts, stops, and starts again.

Your mind, however, is not limited by physical reality. If you consider the swing to be a continuous motion, it is. If you interpret your movement back and movement through as an unbroken movement, it is. I say, you should interpret your swing that way.

The importance of doing that comes when you make the transition between the backswing and the downswing. That transition has to be as smooth and connected as possible. The start of the downswing has to be at the same speed and with the same feeling of movement as at the end of the backswing.

For example, this is exactly how you pound a nail into a board. You take the hammer away, let it ease to a stop, and start back toward the nail the same easy way. You strike the nail in what feels like one stroke, not two.

Similarly, the golf swing accelerates steadily beginning with the takeaway. Smooth acceleration is not interrupted by the transition.

Practice this feeling by making a half wedge swing. Take the club back to where your right arm is parallel to the ground. At that point, let the club float in the air as it comes to a stop. The next instant, when gravity pulls the club down, just follow with your hands, so gravity pulling the club downward and your turn pulling it through accelerate it in tandem.

In the end, it should feel like this was one movement, not two. When your transition connects the backswing to the downswing, you will hit the ball much better.

In my next post, I will show you how to fine tune the transition to give yourself perfect rhythm and smooth acceleration into the ball.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Golf Swing Is a Straight Line Motion

I’m becoming convinced that a good golf swing is easier to acquire than we are being led to believe. That’s because the swing is taught in terms of arcs and angles. I believe it’s best described as a continuous straight line motion.

Imagine a piston drawing back from the ball along the intended flight path, then exploding hard into the ball in that direction. Where else could the ball go but straight? With no arc in that motion, there would be chance for the hitting surface to be misaligned at impact, nor for the direction of the strike to be other than the intended one.

It is true that we have to turn our body in one direction, and then in the reverse direction. Arcs, circles. What I would like you to do is THINK in straight lines. Even though the club is turning away from the ball, think that is going straight back from it.

That is not to say, take the club away in a straight line motion, as a swing mechanic, but to think you are taking the club away straight, even as your body does what it has to do because of the way it is designed.

When it is time to bring the club back into the ball, THINK that you are bring it straight into the ball.

Move in an arc, think in a straight line. When you do that, your body makes unconscious adjustments that bring the club back along the intended starting path with a square clubface. All you do is hang on.

There is one technical matter that must be observed at this point. You pull things more accurately than you push them. When the clubhead is coming toward the ball, it must be pulled with the right hand, not pushed with the left. You can PULL something in a straight line easier than you can PUSH something in a straight line.

That’s all I need to say on this topic. Play around with this idea at the range to figure out how to incorporate it into your swing. If your swing feels like it is changing a bit, maybe it is, but not by as much as it might feel like. The change is mostly in your head. The proof that you’re getting it is in golf balls going very straight, one after the other.

Earlier I said that the golf swing is best described as a continuous straight line motion. I’ll get to the continuous part in my next post.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Solid Core for Golfers

Golf is not a walk in the park, though it looks like one. The golf swing is an athletic movement, which requires physical strength to perform correctly, and to avoid injury.

The physical foundation of the swing is your core, or the trunk and the lower back. Do these exercises three times a week to develop it. No equipment is required.

Exercises 1-3 strengthen your abdomen. Exercises 4-5 strengthen your back. You must do both groups to be balanced.

1. Abdominal crunch – Lie down on your back, both knees bent. Elevate your upper back so your shoulder blades are off the ground. Hold for five seconds and lower your shoulders to the ground. Start with three times and work up to ten.

2. Plank – Get into a push-up position, with your body supported by your toes and your forearms instead of your hands. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for 30 seconds and work up to two minutes.

3. Side plank – Lie on your side. Raise your body off the ground and support it on your forearm and underside foot. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for ten seconds. Do five times on each side. At first, you may wish only to raise your upper body off the ground.

4. Butt squeeze – Lie down on your back, legs straight out. Clench your buttocks and hold for ten seconds. Try not to squeeze your thighs, too. Do five times.

5. Prone pointer – Get down on all fours. Raise your right leg and stick it straight out behind you. Raise your left arm and stick it straight out in front of you. Hold for ten seconds. Lower and switch to left leg, right arm. Do five times on each side, work up to twenty.