Monday, February 13, 2017

Fear of the Ground

I don’t think many recreational golfers ever get over the hardest thing they had to do when they first took up the game -- being able to hit the ball and only the ball.

The ball is so small, as is the tool you use to hit it. If the club meets the ball just a bit too high, you risk blading it. A bit too low and you hit the ground first.

It is this second miss that haunts us and stays with us for years. The ground is in the way and we’re afraid of hitting down there instead of the ball.

Unrecognized and unaddressed, this fear is what does the most to prevent recreational golfers from playing the good golf they are otherwise capable of.

Take this self test. At the range, take out your 6-iron and hit a ball that is sitting on a tee, maybe just a quarter inch above the mat. You’re likely thinking about how easy the ball will be to hit and how good the shot is going to be.

Now put a ball on the mat. If, when you address the ball, your thinking changes, if you think you have to hit the ball precisely right to get a good shot, you have the fear.

You’ve changed your thinking from, “Oh, boy, this is going to be a good shot,” to, “Oh, brother, I hope this works.”

To get over fear of the ground, practice without it. Tee up every ball when you practice full swings and pitches.

Don’t worry, this is not cheating. It’s teaching your unconscious mind that the ground isn’t there. Over time, you come to believe that, freeing yourself to take unfettered swings at the ball.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Swing Thoughts

When you’re standing over the ball, ready to take the club away, there’s something going through your head. What that is will either make your shot easier, or harder.

Imagine a playing partner standing beside you as you’re addressing the ball, giving you all sorts of little reminders. Swing smoothly. Let your weight shift. Swing through the ball. Nice finish.

How long would you put up with that? One time, tops. So there’s no reason to do that to yourself. The reminders you give yourself as you’re about to swing, or during your swing, are destructive. They divide your swing into parts, when it should be thought of as one whole movement.

Sometimes a technical swing thought can pay off, but unless you spend hours on the practice tee and play frequently they can be risky. Besides, that’s just not how the game is played. Cary Middlecoff quotes Ben Hogan:

Hogan was recently asked what specific thought went through his mind just before he started his swing. “All I think about is trying to knock the damn ball in the hole,” said Hogan.

"Oh," said his questioner. "I thought maybe you used some sort of mental gimmick like starting the club back with your hands, or staying in the backswing plane, or something like that."

“No," said Hogan. "You have to work all that stuff out on the practice tee."


So what do you think about? What should be going through your mind? It is the feeling of what you are about to do. Not what the technical points are, but what the swing feels like as a unified whole when all the technical points are performed correctly. That’s what to teach yourself on the practice tee.

When it’s time to play, take a practice swing that is rhythmic, graceful, flowing, and ends with a firm, stable finish, concentrating on what your swing as one movment feels like in its entirety. Then step up to the ball and duplicate that swing before your mind has a chance to go wandering off in another direction.

Your conscious mind is always looking for something to do. Make sure you give it the right task when it’s time to hit your golf ball.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Connection Between Rhythm and Tempo

I believe that rhythm and tempo are the primary fundamentals of golf. Get those right and we can move on to the rest of it.

Rhythm is pretty easy to figure out. It’s three counts up, one count down. You can count to yourself or use a metronome to get the 3:1 swing and probably be doing it after only a few tries. From there it’s a matter of practicing enough to make that your habit.

Tempo, the overall speed of your swing, is a bit more of a problem. There is no correct tempo like there is a correct rhythm. There is only the tempo that works for you.

To find that tempo, I have suggested in previous posts to use a metronome to lock in on the right tempo. I have suggested hitting balls with a gradually increasing tempo until your ball-striking deteriorates, then backing down until ball flight is at its best.

Those methods work well on the practice ground, but are of little value when you're playing. This is a third method that solves that problem.

The correct tempo for you is the one that, on the downswing, is the fastest one possible that does not make you feel like you are rushing, or like you are muscling the club through the ball.

That’s the tempo that allows the pieces of your swing to occur in the right order and at the right time.

You can see how this links up rhythm with tempo. They mutually reinforce each other. Rhythm puts the brake on tempo. Tempo allows the 1 of the 3:1 rhythm to occur (too many golfers swing with a 3:¾ rhythm because their tempo is too fast).

Swing a club at home every day for just a few minutes to practice this. This is a feel that you need to develop and repetition is the only way develop it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Arrive

To have a chance at a par, your shot into the green has to get there. It has to arrive. Where it’s appropriate, for shots you intend to hit the green, be they approaches from the fairway or pitches from closer in, play to hit the ball past the pin. This is the scoring zone.

Most greens are deeper than you think. If you think you have a 6-iron to the pin, hit the 5. That choice guarantees you will fly the hazards around the green, which are usually in front. It allows for your average shot to get to the pin, rather than depending on your best shot. Taking the longer club corrects the tendency to under-club.

There are some greens that are so steep from back to front that hitting the ball past the hole is the last thing you want to do. Play to the pin and if you end up short, that’s all to the good.

But most of the time, don’t worry about being long. Unless you know the pin is way in the back, there’s lots of room behind it. Arrive.

Monday, January 16, 2017

John Jacobs (1925 - 2016)

John Jacobs, the legendary English golf teacher, died on January 13 of bladder cancer. Jacobs was a player of modest success, but after his playing career became one of the greatest teachers of his time.

His formula for the golf swing, "Two turns and a swish," was explained in his book, Practical Golf. This exemplified Jacobs's approach to golf instruction, which was to make things as simple as possible.

Jacobs's method of teaching was to watch the ball, and not the golfer. Ball flight told him everything he needed to know to correct the flaws in that particular swing. This method is the basis for his other well-known golf book, Golf Doctor.

As a player, Jacobs won two professional tournaments, the Dunlop South African Professional Match Play Masters in 1957, beating Gary Player 2&1 in the final, and the Dutch Open, also in 1957. He played on the British Ryder Cup team in 1955. He played in the Open Championship fourteen times, finishing twelfth in 1955.

He was instrumental in founding the European Tour and was its Director-General from 1971 to 1975.

Jacobs as an instructor was equally sought out by the best players in the world and by rank beginners. No matter who it was, his greatest pleasure was to see them improve.

Watch him teach at the PGA coaching summit. The video is over an hour long, and worth every minute of your time.

The influence Jacobs had on the art of teaching was enormous. Butch Harmon said, "John Jacobs wrote the book on coaching. There is not a teacher out here who does not owe him something."

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Mental Forward Press

One of the most difficult things to do is to begin a motion smoothly from a complete stop. In golf, we want to take the club away without a jerk or without putting tension in the body.

At one time, the way to do this was to have a forward press. This would be a slight movment toward the target that the backswing could play off of, hopefully in a rhythmic way.

The trouble with a forward press was that unless it was done carefully, it could get the golfer and the club out of position before the club was taken away, to the detriment of the shot that followed.

Now days we don’t hear much about forward presses. If you watch the professional golfers, you don’t see very many of them with one. I guess that move is out of favor.

But the problem remains. How do we solve it? By having a forward press that is more in the mind than in the body.

This is what I think we should do, ideally: start the swing with a reverse waggle. Instead of taking the club back, with just then hands and wrists, like a traditional waggle, raise the clubhead a bit and swing the club forward, toward the target, by the same amount. Then flow right back into the backswing and come down into the ball.

That makes the swing a three-step movment, not two. It sets you up with perfect rhythm, and keeps you relaxed throughout the swing. Unfortunately, since the club is not next to the ball at the start, it might be difficult to find the ball accurately at impact.

But you can take a practice swing like that, if you want to. It’s not unheard of. Then, address the ball, and do the reverse waggle in your mind, and, following the same rhythm as in the practice swing, take the club into a relaxed, flowing swing.

It’s still a three-part swing. You merely did the first part in your mind.

If you try this, you might find your body responding to the initial mental movment in some way. That’s O.K., just ignore it. Focus on the mental feeling as you get your swing started.

Another benefit of the mental forward press is that it will take your mind off any anxieties you have of the shot you’re about to hit. Anything that helps you in that department is all right.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Best Posts of 2016

I put up fifty-two posts in 2016. Not counting the four for the major championships previews, I gave you forty-eight ways to improve your game.

Well, maybe not so much as that. Sometimes I know I’ve come across something that truly works and will make a big difference. Other times I look back and say to myself, What was I thinking?

But because it will be very difficult for you to go back and find the good ones, I’ve done it for you. These are the best posts of the year, the ones I think will help you out the most in hitting better shots and lowering your score.

February 7
A Basic Golf Skills Inventory

February 14
What Made Me a Good Golfer

March 6
The Way You Take Your Grip

March 27
A New Way of Practicing

April 10
The Vertical Dimension of Impact

April 13
Swing Speed

May 5
A Tempo Feeling

June 9
Keeping Golf stats

July 4
A Back-Friendlier Golf Swing

September 18
Make More Short Putts

October 9
The Right Way to Create a Golf Swing

October 23
Your Stance

November 6
Getting Good Around the Green

December 18
The Two-Week Health Rule


Happy New Year.