Friday, July 31, 2009

2009 British Open – Lessons for all Golfers.

For the past week, the topic of conversation at the United States Golf Academy has been Tom Watson’s remarkable 2nd place finish in the recent British Open. As I watched the event unfold, I must admit I was excited, but not really surprised. I am old enough to remember that Tom Watson is and has always been a great player and just because he is older he has not forgotten what it takes to win a golf tournament, especially, a British Open. There are some very clear lessons that all of us can take from his play.

Have a Plan – All week long during the interviews Watson spoke of his “plan” and sticking to it. I won’t pretend to tell you what I think it was, but I do know the following.
1. He knew the golf course. How many times have you played a course you know and hit a shot in a position that makes the hole much more difficult? Not because your miss hit the shot, but because you weren’t paying attention. Every golf hole ever built has a “best way” for you to play the hole and it is not always the most direct or shortest route.
2. He accepts the ups and downs of playing links golf. Watson, probably better than anyone in the field, knew he would get good breaks and bad breaks during the four days of the tournament. The secret to playing well is to not let down when you get a good break and make a great score, and just as important is to not let a bad break ruin your round.
3. Find the strength in your golf game and play to it. All of us have parts of our game that are better than others. For Watson it has always been his ability to hit the ball in the middle of the clubface. This ability to hit the ball with solid contact reduces his need to alter his trajectory in bad weather. So he doesn’t need to change his swing in bad weather. He just accounts for the wind and chooses the club that will fly a specific distance. What are your strengths? Create a plan that plays to your strengths and avoids your weaknesses and keep playing until the round is over. You might surprise some people like Tom Watson did.

Better Preparation - Better Golf Shots

One of the most difficult aspects of playing golf is trying to determine the cause of a bad shot. There are so many factors that coming to the wrong conclusion is almost inevitable. For the vast majority of students visiting the United States Golf Academy the conclusion was that they have “bad swings”. Sometimes their conclusions are correct, but not always. More likely they have mechanically sound swings, but the ball is positioned in such they have to adjust. Need proof? Ask yourself, “Is your practice swing better than when you try to hit the ball?”

Imagine a robot with a perfect golf swing. In order to utilize this perfect swing we have to calibrate the ball position to the robot. Calibration is easy because the swing repeats. So all you have to do is place the ball at the bottom of the swing. What most golfers don’t realize is that good or bad your golf swing will repeat with remarkable consistency. So if you have a routine to find the correct ball position, this repeating swing will produce a consistent result. Good or bad, one problem is much easier to deal with than a variety.

These are the guidelines I teach at our schools to develop consistent pre-shot preparation. You can vary the manner you use to achieve the following steps, but you must maintain the chronological order. WITH YOUR FEET TOGETHER, place the club behind the ball and point the face the direction you want the ball to go. Next place your hands on the club, maintaining the face in the playing position. Now, adjust your arms and shoulders so they are parallel to the direction you want to swing the club. Finally, without moving your hands or shoulders, you can now set your feet. If allowed to move without influence your feet will automatically move to a position under your shoulders. The result is a parallel and balanced set up with the ball in a consistent position relative to your body. Now there is an easy way to tell if your swing is sound. Go through the procedure as written and then close your eyes and swing the club. Most hit the ball on the first swing; many feel a balance issue and fix it themselves within a couple of shots. All are shocked they can hit the ball with their eyes closed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Common Swing Faults

At the United States Golf Academy we are firm believers that each of our students are unique and swing the club differently. Our goal is to help each player find their own technique, but in doing so we also find ourselves saying the same things to different players each day. So with the hope of helping you to a better second half of the season I thought I would comment on two of the most common problems we observe.

Easily the most common fault is in an effort to create more club speed the player over swings the club in the backswing. Two fundamental rules apply. You can only swing the club back as far as your balance allows and you should coordinate your arm swing to your shoulder turn. Basically, when your shoulders stop turning your arms should stop swinging. If the arms swing beyond the shoulders the arms are always trying to catch up with the shoulder turn on the down swing. You reach top speed before you get to the ball and the club is slowing at impact. Hall of Fame Golfer Jimmy Demaret said the best tip he could give any golfer is to keep your elbows in front of you as you swing. In other words don’t let your arms out race your shoulders.

The second most common is what I call the twisted set up. Feet point one direction; the shoulders another; your spine leans in the wrong direction; one leg is bent more than the other and/or any number of other combinations. The best way to have a balanced swing is to use a balanced set up. One where the shoulders, hips, knees and feet are aligned in a similar direction and parallel to each other. The twisted set up usually happens because you set your feet first and then twist your way to get the club behind the ball. A very famous golfer once told me the difference between a great golfer and the average golfer is that the average golfers start with their feet and twist their way to the ball at address. The accomplished player starts with the club behind the ball and works backwards moving their feet last rather than planting them first.

Spend a few minutes working on these two points and I am sure you will see some improvement in your ball striking.

Putting Clinic

On July 19th the Swan Lake Resort and United States Golf Academy is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an open house. For my portion of the day’s festivities I will be doing a putting seminar that afternoon. We have over 30,000 measured strokes on our Puttlab technology and in studying those strokes we have found some data that is contrary to many accepted practices. Admission to the festival is free and I hope you can attend, but for those who cannot I thought I would share some of what we have learned.

To get the results you hope for when putting there are two things to consider, what direction you wish the ball to go and how hard you need to strike the putt in this direction. The direction the putt leaves the putter is influenced by two variables. The angle of the clubface at impact and the direction the putter is moving at impact. Of these there is no contest as to which is more important. 82% of the direction the ball leaves the putter is determined by face angle at impact. Only 18% is determined by putter path. Unfortunately, for most of us we become more concerned with the direction of the path the putter swings rather than just getting the face to the correct position at impact. The easiest way to learn to control the face is with a two by four. Set the board on the ground and line the face of the putter to the board. Swing the putter back and then into the end of the board. Did you strike the board squarely or was the face open or closed? Work with this board will give you the feedback necessary to fix the problem.

If you have a problem with controlling the distance, look to the length of your stroke. The best putters in the world vary the length of their putting strokes to the length of the putt. They use longer strokes for longer putts and shorter strokes for shorter putts. To the contrary we mortals usually take the putter back the same distance for every putt and then try to vary the speed of the putter through impact. Use a yardstick to measure the length of you backstroke visually. With no target hit a few putts at a 6 inch backswing and then measure the distance the ball rolls. How far with an 8 inch backswing and so on. This drill will help you develop the feel necessary to roll the ball the correct distance.