Sunday, June 28, 2015

Don't Let the Golf Ball Distract You

We all have a practice swing that is sheer poetry, but put a golf ball in front of us and we become our old selves again. How do we stop doing that?

First of all, why do we do it? It’s because we get too caught up in results instead of process. If we do the right things, and the ball is in the way, it will go where we want it to go.

We just can’t resist adding a little extra, trying to make the ball go where we want it to, just to be sure. We can’t believe it is as simple as just swinging the club correctly.

But it is.

So here’s my advice on how to re-train your brain not to get distracted by the ball -- how to see your swing at a ball in the same way as you take your practice swing.

Put a ball on the ground in front of you, and address it. Now back away from it about six inches so when you swing you won’t hit it.
Make some swings, five or so, heck, ten, but as you swing, look at the ball. Don’t ignore it as you do with a practice swing. Look at that ball head on.

After a time, your mind will start associating the ball in front of you with a smooth swing that does not contact the ball in funny ways. Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha.

Because there is no result with this swing, your mind stops thinking about results, and focuses just on swinging.

Your conscious mind is in on the deception, but your unconscious mind is not at all this subtle. All it knows is that when you swing at the ball, nothing happens. There’s nothing to worry about. Your fears never arise, and it’s from the unconscious mind where they originate.

Since you’re re-training your brain, you have to practice this exercise a lot. You can’t just give yourself a suggestion. That’s working with your conscious mind. Habits are formed in the unconscious mind.

Doing this drill over and over is how you build a new habit, one that leaves you feeling like hitting the ball is doesn’t add anything to what you’re already doing. That’s how you keep the ball from distracting you.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Relax Your Upper Body at Address

Before we hit a shot, our mind must be relaxed and at peace with what we are about to do.

Now it might sound odd to think about being at peace with something as minor as hitting a golf ball, compared to the truly big things in life that deserve that frame of mind.

Yet, whenever we are challenged and have to perform our best, we are challenged in the same way, and we respond in the same way, regardless of the nature of the challenge. That’s the way our mind works.

Since this is a blog post, and not a book, I can’t address all the issues that arise from this simple beginning. I’ll just pick out one, and hope it helps you in some small way.

The mind leads the body. What you feel in your body is a reflection of what you feel in your mind.

When there is tension in your mind, you will feel it somewhere in your body, guaranteed. You might have become so used to it that you do not notice it, but it’s there. I promise you.

In golf, mental tension is often felt in the upper body, in the shoulders and across the upper chest at shoulder level. That tension radiates down to your arms and hands. They all feel tight, like force is being applied, but not against anything. It’s just there, and it’s an indicator that you’re not ready to hit the shot.

When address the ball, check yourself for this tension. It doesn’t help you swing the way you have trained yourself to do. Remember it’s there because of tension in your mind, so get rid of it by getting rid of the tension in your mind.

How much tension do you have in your mind when you make a practice swing? None. Zip. Nada. Step up to the ball with that same feeling in your mind and swing away.

I’m not promising you that you’ll hit a stellar shot, but I am promising you the odds of hitting shots like you expect to hit will be much greater with a relaxed mind than with a tense mind.

If you think about it, many of your bad shots were caused by mental tension in the moment rather than bad technique. This is one way to solve the problem.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

How to Hit a Fade or a Draw, in 50 Words

(and one video, q.v.)

1. Always align your body parallel to the yellow rod.

2. Always aim the clubface halfway between the two rods.

3. Fade: the orange rod is the target line and the yellow rod is the swing line.

4. Draw: The yellow rod is the target line and the orange rod is the swing line.



Notes:
All this is predicated on being able to hit the ball straight at will. Otherwise, you’ll just be adding more uncertainty to your game.

Practice these shots before you use them on the course.

Make sure the swing line points in a direction that won’t hurt you if the curve doesn’t come off as planned.

When you set up, disregard your target. Think only of the direction you want the ball to start. If you think of where you want the ball to end up, you will try to move the ball there deliberately, ruining everything.

The amount of curvature you get depends on the angle between the two rods and your ability to curve the ball. Experiment to find out your results.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The State of My Game

The posts I write are meant to help you play better. Whatever I put up here is something I tried myself and find that it works. I’m not going to tell you something I heard somewhere that sounds like it makes sense. I test it first. But it’s all about you.

Today, though is different. Today is all about me, though maybe even then you might find something in it that helps you as well.

Because of some back surgeries I underwent several years ago, I had to change the way I swing the golf club. I swing it much easier now. I haven’t measured my clubhead speed, though I know it’s slower because I have lost about twenty yards off the tee and one club from the fairway.

Distance, though, is only one part of playing golf. I have become much more accurate, because I have to be accurate. I have designed a swing, therefore, that hits the ball very straight, time after time. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Through impact, my club hits the ground at the same spot, at the same depth, with a square clubface, consistently. The way I accomplish this is to lose all thought of hitting the ball powerfully, and instead, think of swinging the club gracefully.

To strike the ball accurately, so many things have to be lined up just right, and when this has to be done at speed it’s all more difficult. I swing as fast as I can while still keeping everything in order. If I tried to swing faster, I would only disrupt the impact alignments and start hitting the ball anywhere but where I wanted it to go. In addition, I doubt I would hit the ball that much farther to make the effort worthwhile.

I find my longest shots happen when I take care of swinging the club and let the club take care of the hitting. After all, the hit is built into your clubs. That’s why you paid so much for them. You just swing it and let the manufacturer take care of the rest.

The recreational golfer, who doesn’t have world-class talent, doesn’t have access to world-class coaching, nor hours a day to spend practicing, needs to play golf differently than the players who do. We need a swing that keeps the ball in play, first and last.

In my personal experience, and in what I see in the people I play with, the pursuit of distance, trying to hit each ball as far as possible rather than as straight as possible, is the number one reason why so many golfers play worse than they are capable of. I know it’s fun to really tag one, but if your overall game is designed around doing that, you’re costing yourself handfuls of strokes for the occasional satisfaction.

On the other hand, if you can build a swing that accomplishes the three things I mentioned earlier, you will hit the ball straighter, and you won’t lose distance, because you will be making a more solid impact. I lost distance because of a physical condition, but that’s not you.

Recreational golf is wrapped up in hitting the ball straight. Spend some time at the driving range just watching people and ask yourself, about every one of them, if their problem is that they don’t hit the ball far enough, or that they don’t hit it straight enough.

If you can change your conception of golf from hard and far to graceful and straight, and they act on it, you will be on the way to becoming the best player you can be. Well, as long as you can putt, too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ben Hogan's Three Right Hands

There’s a guy I play golf with occasionally who is in his 50s and new to the game. He’s small, but strong. His swing is: wind up the upper body and swing through as hard as you can with your shoulders and arms. When he connects, it’s really impressive. The other ninety percent of the time, it’s not.

He told me once that he read Ben Hogan’s book (Five Lessons) and mentioned the part where Hogan said he wished he had three right hands. Having read that book so much I almost have it memorized, I agreed that Hogan did say that.

I think my friend interpreted that as a green light to hit the ball as hard as he could with his right hand. That sure looks like what he's trying to do.

What I didn’t say, because I don’t give unsolicited advice on the golf course, is my friend needed to read the whole sentence rather than just that part.
 Hogan at that point (p. 101) was talking about the left wrist. I won’t give you the entire quote, but he said,

“...the left hand will not check or interrupt the speed with which your clubhead is traveling. There’s no danger either that the right hand will overpower the left and twist the club over. It can’t. As far as applying power goes, I wish I had three right hands!”

That’s it. You can hit as hard as you want to with your right hand IF THE LEFT WRIST IS IN THE PROPER POSITION (illustration below).



Hogan was not saying to hit the ball as if you had three right hands, period. There is a catch, and the catch is the shape of the left wrist.

The right hand turning over the left was my problem exactly for many years. I solved it by changing my grip and by giving my hands less responsibility through impact.

What I have is a flat left wrist at impact. Having that wrist bend outward like Hogan showed is beyond my ability. If you can get your left wrist flat (Hogan) and facing the target (Trevino) at impact, you’re way ahead of the game.

But back to the book. Hitting hard only makes sense if you are sure you can keep the clubface aligned while you’re doing it. Hogan showed you in Five Lessons how he did it.

A shorter way of saying it is, square first, hard second.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Be Your Own Caddy

In Better Recreational Golf, I have a small essay on the chapter titled Playing the Game, called Be Your Own Caddy. The point I made was that you need to have a good reason for every shot you hit.

It has to be a shot you know you can hit, that you have confidence in, and one that leaves the ball in a good spot for the next one.

Yet, more often than not, all we think about is how to get the ball from point A to point B, without giving much thought to our selection of exactly where point B should be.

If we had a caddy with us, those two questions would be the topic of some conversation. The caddy would not be satisfied until you had good answers to both of them.

To play your best golf, you have to step into the role of your caddy and discuss things with your other self, the player self, until you both are in agreement.

Now this might not work for everyone, but I believe that if before you take a club out of the bag, you explain to yourself why you want to use this club, and what shot you’re going to hit with it, and to where, you might start thinking a little clearer about the choices you make.

You would consider the lie, the wind, the landing area, and the distance. Then you hit the shot you can hit, rather than the shot you want to hit, or would be good if it works out.

Take your salary, convert it to an hourly rate, and compute how much is costs you, at that rate, to play a round of golf. Add on a quarter of your green fees to that hourly rate, too.

Now ask yourself if you would pay a caddy that much money for the same advice you usually give to yourself. For most of us, I think we would demand a little more.

Hitting shots is only part of golf. Hitting the right shot to the right place is how you use your hard-earned skills to shoot a low score. You do that by being your own caddy.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Good Golf Takes Dedication

A few years ago, I published a blog post that was a reprint, with permission, of the best piece I have ever read about how much practice it takes to get good at golf.

The answer is essentially what Ben Hogan told Gary Player when Player said he practiced all the time. Hogan said, “Good. Now practice more than that.”

I read an obituary a few years ago of Bob Kurland, who played professional basketball in the 1950s. He was one of the first truly big men in the game. Kurland realized if he developed a hook shot from close in, no one would be able to stop it.

So the story goes that he went to the gym and started practicing. The first 100 or so shots didn’t come close. The next hundred showed promise. By about 300 shots, he started to connect.

That’s not too much for you to do, either, if you want to.

A few days ago I was cruising around Wikipedia, reading the entry for Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. He worked his butt off to get where got to.

He said, about composing, “Well, I can do that. Because you just don't know. You think it's a talent, you think you're born with this thing. What I've found out and what I believed is that everybody is talented. It's just that some people get it developed and some don’t.”

You have the talent to be good at something in golf. Very good. Decide what you’re going to be good at, and put in the work to get there.

How much work? One more time.

I picked up this line recently, but I can’t remember from where. It goes like this: An amateur will practice until he (or she) can do it right. A professional will keep on practicing until he can’t do it wrong.

The next time you practice chipping for ten minutes and a few shots get close to the hole and you’re about to call it a day, think about how good could you be vs. how good are you allowing yourself to be.