Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Secret Part 2

Last week we wrote of an overlooked secret, swinging the club in the direction the body is aligned regardless of the accuracy of your alignment. This week I thought we could share the second part of the secret to better golf shots.
The first priority for all great golfers is to control the rotation of the clubface in the backswing. They all understand that the direction the ball will fly is dominated by the position of the clubface at impact and the only way to insure accuracy at impact is to control the rotation of the clubface in the backswing. There are three directions the clubface can rotate in the backswing. It can close or turn counterclockwise in the backswing, it can open or rotate in a clockwise direction, or it can remain square through the swing. There have been great players who swung the club to each position at the top of their swing. My old employer Arnold Palmer played from a slightly closed clubface position at the top of the swing. From that same era Ben Hogan played from an open position at the top of the swing. In the modern era Tiger Woods is a perfect example of a player who is perfectly square at the top of the swing.
So which is best? This is a subject of great debate, but it is safe to say that a square position is the best place to start the downswing. Johnny Miller, making a swing evaluation during a recent telecast, proclaimed starting the downswing from a square position was the secret to successfully swinging a golf club. The square position requires no manipulation of the clubface during the downswing and it allows you to swing at any speed and still have the face square at impact. The others require specific and sometime inconsistent compensations to get the club to square.
So at this point you are probably thinking this is all well and good, but how can I tell what type of player I am? The easiest way is to swing the club to the top of your swing while watching yourself in a mirror. Position the mirror so you swing the club toward it as you take the club away from the ball. At the top of your swing look at the position of the clubface as it relates to your lead arm (left for the right handed player and right for the left handed). If the club is square the clubface will be exactly parallel to the left arm. If the face is pointed skyward you are closed and if the face is vertical the club face is open. Practice finding a backswing that produces a square face and I promise an improvement in your ball striking skills.

A Secret from the Best

A day doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t ask me about the “secrets” of the game. Many people often assume that the difference between their games and the best players in the world is a special bit of information that will make all the difference. There is no question that the best players have a greater knowledge of the game and how to play it. It is also true that while they are still competing they are slow to share the really valuable information in fear that someone will use it against them in a future tournament. However, I recently read an article written by Tiger Woods where in passing he mentioned some information that was shared with me years ago by Hall of Famer, Arnold Palmer. In my opinion this is a true secret of the game and yet I will bet that most people who read the same article completely overlooked it.
As Tiger described hitting a shot with a fairway wood he mentioned that you should be sure to swing the club in the direction your body is pointed. Mr. Palmer always said that the difference between the good player and the bad was that the good player always swung the club in the direction the body was pointed while the poor player would swing the club at the target regardless of where they were aligned. The resulting shot for a poor player would be a ball that starts at the target and then curves away. The better player starts the ball away from the target and curves the ball toward the flag, always getting closer. It is not that the better players have perfect alignment, far from it. But by swinging the club wherever their body is pointed they satisfy the first rules of shot making. Right to left shots must start to the right and left to right shots must start to the left.
Your best swings will always come when the club is moving in sync with your body. Easily the most common reason for any missed shot we see at the Academy is when people try to re-route the club in an attempt to steer the ball to the hole. The reason, and this is counter intuitive to many, is that the clubface is the major influence on direction, while the path as it relates to the face produces spin. The spin then causes the ball to curve. The more the path direction differs from the direction the face is pointed the more the spin and the bigger the curve. So here is the secret. The clubface controls the most of the direction, while the path produces the spin. If your shots curve away from the target try simply swinging the club where your feet are pointed and let the clubface bring the ball back on line.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

No Perfect Method

I was very fortunate to be an assistant golf professional at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge during the early 80’s. Each year in March, the PGA Tour would come to Bay Hill. Out of respect to our owner, Arnold Palmer, the event would attract the best players in the world. One of the responsibilities of the pro shop staff in those days was to take care of the needs of the players and NBC’s broadcast team during the week. The great advantage of being one of the “go to” people for the week was that you were able to meet and get to know, at least on a short term basis, all the stars of the event. One of my favorites was Lee Trevino, who besides playing in the event, also worked as the color commentator for NBC. Lee was always great to the guys on staff and we loved him because he was one of us. A former club pro who had washed carts, cleaned clubs, searched for lost head covers, just like we did everyday. One night Lee was working on his clubs at the repair trailer and as usual he had drawn a crowd listening to his stories. One of my co-workers asked him what he had done over the years to make himself a great player. His answer is something I have shared with every golfer I have worked with since. He said, “I never wasted any time looking for a perfect method, I only worked to perfect my own method.”
We all have tendencies when it comes to playing golf. We all have a dominate eye and a dominate hand. We all have different physical strengths and weaknesses, and also different emotional reactions. All of this and much more combine to create a unique golfer that is you. So how do we sort it all out to perfect our own method? While I can’t help you solve it all in one column, I will tell you that the best place to start is to understand that the process of hitting a golf shot is divided into two very separate parts; the first is visual and the second mechanical. Before we ever make a swing we have to identify a target and align the mechanism used to swing the club (our body) properly to that target. So as we create a personal method or strategy, we can’t have a discussion about “how” until we decide “where”. Next week we will try to help start the process by talking a little about target selection for all golf shots and how the way you “see” influences how you play.

More Ideas for Better Putting

At the United States Golf Academy we have devoted a great deal of time and resources to research all aspects of playing the game of golf to help our students shoot lower scores. Of course, for any player the fastest way to shoot lower scores is to make more putts. In order to do that, the first aspect of putting that needs to be addressed is the visual aspect or for lack of a better term – aim.
Many years ago when asked about putting Arnold Palmer said that the key to good putting was to hit the ball where you are looking. If it is really that simple then why is it so darn difficult in application? The answer lies in the way we perceive the target and the task. Most of us can aim very well when we look directly down the intended direction of a putt. Unfortunately, the view becomes distorted when we move to the side. Try this test. Draw a straight line on a ball and looking down the intended line point the line on the ball at the target. Now walk around to the side as you would to putt. Does the line still appear to be going toward the target? If so it is safe for you to use that line as a reference to putt. The next step for you is to find a putter where the visual references on the putter match the line on the ball. This is much harder than you think because even with a perfectly aligned line on the ball they can still be off when they set the putter behind the ball. We have found that each layer of visual reference is an opportunity for distraction.
For those of you who have a different impression of the line when you are in position to strike the putt it is important to eliminate the visual interference. Lines on the ball and lines on the putter are more distraction than help. For you to be successful you must become more instinctive when you aim rather than analytical. Don’t feel bad, there are more of you out there than people who can successfully use the line. We recently commissioned an Inaugural Edition Putter for the Academy. Each of these is custom fit to the owner and has no visual references or alignment aids. It is my personal contention that the vast majority of us would putt better without all the alignment “aids” we have on today’s putters. The extra lines and gimmicks might give us the sense of better alignment, but in reality our work with PuttLab clearly shows us that most players aim the putter better without the visual distractions. They just don’t think they do, but that is a topic for another column.