Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wedge Fitting Re-Visited

The United States Golf Academy was recently named by Golf Digest Magazine as one of the Top 100 club-fitters in the United States. If there is a reason we were chosen for this honor I think it is simply this. We have assembled a group of excellent golf instructors who understand that you can’t have a conversation about how to swing a golf club without knowing something about the playing characteristics of the club. Nowhere is that more evident than with the wedges you play and yet they are often overlooked during the fitting process.

When buying new clubs, the wedges should be fit in a separate process. The reasons to do so are basic. First, we use the wedges for shots covering a broad range of distances. Where the variance might be +/- 7 or 8 yards with an iron, it could be as much as 25 yards with a wedge. Second, we make a variety of different swings to achieve the distance controls we seek. Outside - in cut shots, inside - out paths for low spinning shots to the green, steep or shallow angles of attack depending on lie and shot requirements. Our ability to hit these shots requires perfect clubface control.

The ball flies where the face of the club is pointed at impact. When the face of the club is tilted the effect on the ball is magnified. The more it is tilted the greater the effect. The effect on the ball flight of a wedge that is too upright or too flat is exaggerated due to the increase in loft. As a review, because of the tilted plane of the wedge, how that plane is tilted will influence the direction the ball leaves the club and also how the ball spins.

Most golfers play with wedges that are too upright. So for a normal shot and swing they get a ball flight that is often left of the target. If they don’t have the knowledge of club dynamics and how the dynamics change with the fit, they often compensate by turning the face open thinking the pull was caused by a closed face. Some will reroute the club on a bigger path to the right, which is the recipe for a shank, but that is another story for another day. Unfortunately, by opening the face, they also increase the amount of loft the club has at impact. The result is a straight shot high that flies shorter than expected due to the increase in loft. Unfortunately, by opening the face you also flatten the lie angle of the club. You can see this at home. Take your sand wedge and lay the club head flat on the ground with the leading edge of the face straight away from you. Now rotate the club head in a clockwise manner (opposite for lefties) and watch the face open. If you keep the club flat on the ground you will notice your hand drops lower and lower as you open the club. Why would this be a problem? Lie angles are usually tested by striking a ball off a board and then looking to see where the board marks the golf club. A wedge that is too upright, with an open face to compensate, will mark the sole of the club as if it is a perfect fit. So we keep playing at a disadvantage because we think we have the correct fit, blaming our lack of talent when it is really a club fit issue.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Important, Direction or Speed?

A ball goes into the hole because two requirements have been achieved. First, the ball is traveling in the correct direction. Second, it is moving at the proper speed. The speed and direction the ball travels is determined in that fraction of a second the ball is on the face as the putter collides with the ball. At that brief moment all the other concepts used to describe the putting motion are of little importance unless they deal directly with the moment of impact. So to create our own strategy we must focus on those two factors, Direction and Distance and the parameters at impact that influence them.

A constant topic of discussion at the United States Golf Academy is from a strategic standpoint when putting, what is more important? Distance or Direction. A quick search on the internet will produce all the opinions you could ever want on the subject and all are valid points of view. However, for a player trying to develop a method or technique, it is very important you start with controlling direction.
There are a number of myths and legends about how the ball comes off the putter. These are mostly created by product marketing. Golfer's have a tendency to romanticize putting, when it simply is a collision of a moving object with a stationary one. Since the ball is on the face for such a limited time there isn’t much that happens. The ball moves from the impact depending on where the face of the putter was pointed and how fast it was moving. If the direction or speed changes after impact it is totally due to forces beyond the player’s control. So it is imperative that we control what we can.

When building a putting stroke we have to start with the issues dealing with direction. Controlling direction requires an understanding of the mechanics of the stroke. As you build your method, it is much more efficient to address the two issues in this order, direction first, and then speed. Why? Because how fast the putter is moving has no influence on direction the ball leaves the putter. However, how the face is delivered to the ball has a large influence on how fast the ball leaves the putter. Our putting study has shown clearly that with the putter moving at the same exact speed, how far the ball rolls will vary depending on other variables to impact. The primary factor is the vertical angle of the face at impact, or the loft. The loft is influenced by a number of factors, how much on the putter to start with, and have you done something to alter that number at impact. This can be done by changing the angle of the shaft at impact. Toward the target reduces loft, away from the target increases the loft. Another influence is where the face is pointed relative to the direction their putter is moving. As always the explanation is complicated, but for the player, we have learned if we can control these variables to control direction, the adjustments needed for speed are much easier to learn.

The moral to the story is this. If you are a winter practicer, work as hard as you can to understand what makes the ball start on line. Spend no time worrying about speed. Feel for speed is a constant adjustment because conditions change on a daily basis, but if we understand direction we are prepared to make the adjustments.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tiger Putting Problems

In 2006 I saw PuttLab reports for Tiger Woods. A bunch of them.

His stroke was exactly on line at impact, the shaft was straight up and down and he struck the ball exactly at the bottom of the arc of his stroke. His goal was for a vertical shaft angle and 3.5 degrees of loft at impact. He was robotic in his ability to do that.

I have read twice in the past two weeks that he now hits up on the ball in excess of 4 degrees. This could be in an attempt to use the Method at 2 degrees loft, in order to get the ball rolling. Or it could be he drank the "Kool Aid" that says that hitting up on the ball when you putt, gives you "top spin" which means a better roll, so you will make more putts, and then you will win the lottery….. and all the other promises marketers make to sell putters. It is not a better or more efficient way and here is why I believe that.

The following is a PuttLab report of Iron Archie using a perfect arc. While it isn't an exact duplicate of Tiger's stroke it is very close and will help show the issues of trying to hit up on a putt.

The diagram shows the side view of an arc. The black dots stacked over each other are the ball position. The single black square to the left would be the ball position required to hit up on the ball 4 degrees! The bottom picture shows the measurements of shaft lean and rise angle. So impact in this example was at the bottom of the arc and shaft position is vertical just as Tiger was looking for in 2006.

This picture shows the players view of the path that corresponds with the picture above. This is the classic arc many try to achieve. The black spot on the left notes the impact point required for 4 degrees (approximately) up, with no change in posture or setup. Remember you can't change the posture or setup without changing the stroke.

Note the direction of the path at the impact point 4 degrees up. One characteristic of the robot is that the putter always swings square to the path. Square to the path at 4 degrees up is left! So you must either swing the putter open to the path to stay square to the line as you hit up (what most players do) or adjust the path. When Tiger releases the putter the face is closed to the path. So with this stroke he is really fighting the pull.

Puttlab shows that most of us hit up. In 2006 and the next couple of years later, Tiger was the best putter ever, certainly better than the pros used in the initial PuttLab studies that showed hitting up on the ball. Isn't it possible they should have copied what was working for him?

So based on a face slightly closed to the path, as anyone would have with the thought of releasing the putter, here is the where the direction of the path would have to be to strike the ball as the putter swings 4 degrees up. You have to tilt the arc to suit impact.

I know some players with paths this shape who are great putters. But they have used it forever and they understand the issues and requirements.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Perfect Stroke needs the Perfect Putter

A portion of everyday, at the United States Golf Academy, is spent trying to help people improve their putting. Most come to us in search for a perfect stroke, one that would never miss. If they can’t have perfect they will settle for a “better way”. Such as, “there must be a better way than the method I currently use.” The mechanics of a perfect putting stroke are fairly easy to achieve. Hold your hands in front of you as if you were praying, with your elbows pointed at your hips. Bend from the hips until your fingers are pointed at the tips of your toes. At this point you can adjust the bend of your elbows to make yourself more comfortable. Some of us bend better than others. Now swing your hands back and through on a straight path. In essence, that is all you need to make a perfect stroke. I have never met a player who could not perform this task and do it every time. We all have a perfect stoke. However, there are key elements missing, the relationship of this stroke to the target, the location of the ball relative to where you are standing and how you connect the hands to the ball, or the putter we use.

Every putting stroke we make is a random event and our success or failure is not necessarily determined by whether we are using a perfect stroke. Even with the perfect stroke, a holed putt is still achieved based on how we deal with the other parameters involved. How we position ourselves for the task and whether we can perform based on our preparation and not as a reaction to the ball while the putter is in motion. In other words, can you use your perfect stroke or do you have to compensate as the putter is in motion or even worse, do you think you need to compensate? To use our perfect stroke, we need to make the correct visual decisions. We have to choose the right target. We have to position our bodies in such a way so our perspective of the target does not change when we move to a side on position. We must have the correct position of the golf club relative to the body and the ball, so the club swings in the direction and speed intended. In a perfect scenario, once the visual decisions are made the stroke becomes a mechanical function, our perfect stroke. Over the past years we have discovered this connection between hands and ball, and the design of the putter, has the most influence on how the stroke is eventually made. In a 4 year study using PuttLab technology to measure in excess of 15,000 strokes one indisputable conclusion is that people change their putting stroke based on the putter in their hands. So once the posture and position is determined we have discovered that not only are the correct dimensions critical, but also there are putter designs that better suit the position you create. When the correct putter is found the compensations we once thought we needed are eliminated and we can use the perfect stroke we all know we have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Artist or Engineer?

At the United States Golf Academy we have a staged area, set up for putting analysis. Every student working with the Academy, involved in a putting discussion, works from here. It is a huge benefit to us as instructors to see each player under the exact same circumstance. Trends and similarities start to become apparent. For example, how people approach the task of putting can easily be placed into two distinct groups.

We have come to the conclusion that golfer’s fall into two groups from an analytical standpoint of how they approach the task of putting. I call them the Artists or the Engineers.

The Artists are the big picture people. They approach the task of putting in its entirety, rather than the sum of a step by step process. Details often annoy them and they seem to prefer simple over complicated. These players often have a great feel for distance but struggle with direction. Often their strokes are long and free flowing, and combined with their occasional struggles with direction, they have a tendency to struggle with short putts.

The Engineers prefer order and are detail oriented. They see the world in straight lines, right angles and prefer accurate reference points. Their liking of detail is often reflected in their putters, big lines and clear reference points, and their thoughts about the stroke path shape. This is the straight back and straight through group, with controlled backswing and follow through lengths. These players are usually very good on short putts but struggle with longer putts as their natural tendency is to focus on line over speed.

One way we use to help determine the category a player fits is to simply ask them to hit some putts with their eyes closed. For the artist this is no problem, for the engineer this task creates an anxious feeling and a loss of control.

Understanding how these personality traits apply to you is an important first step in building your strategy and technique for putting. It is extremely important to not try to do something that doesn’t fit your personality. It is amazing to watch golfers as they try to do something outside their comfort zone. The frustration and anxiety is measureable. Much more important is to learn how to deal with the inherent weaknesses, not from change, but from knowledge. The grass is never greener on the other side. Take the Artist who struggles with shorter putts, or the Engineer who struggles with distance control, asking them to use techniques that don’t suit their personality is a recipe for disaster. They might be able to do it but they are fighting you every inch of the way. Eventually the inner self wins out and they get worse instead of better.

So which one are you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

When I was employed by Science and Motion, the builders of PuttLab, we spent some time consulting with a well known putter manufacturer. They were using PuttLab to determine the influence their putters might have on players and their putting strokes. They had purchased a putting robot to use the measured results as a baseline for the test groups. One afternoon I got a phone call from the company complaining that our equipment was off. They had hooked PuttLab to the putting robot and got the following results.

At the top we are looking at the position of the putter relative to the red target line. You can see it was perfectly square. The Path View shows the putter swinging on a path about 4 degrees to the right of the target line. The end result is the putter sqaure to the target but 4.4 degrees closed to the putter path. The representative of the company said that the system must be off as the path direction was not perfectly straight and all the putts had gone into the hole. This was very distressing to a company who spent a great deal of money promoting a sqaure to the path putting stroke. I explained to the technician that the robot made all 5 putts was no surprise. Since the face at impact is 4 times more influential on direction than path, with a perfect face on a 10 foot putt it would take a path of 6 degrees right or more for the putt to miss to the right. He had set the robot up to the target line without any calibration and then he attached the putter so it was perfectly square to the target line. The results were 5 made putts but not from a “perfect” stroke. With this explanation he was able to meet the needs of the company, but with a little less belief in the system. Moral of the story focus on face position and let the path take care of itself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Corked Bat.

The summer of 1994 was the season of the “corked bat” controversy in Major League baseball. Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians had been caught using a bat that had been hollowed out and the cavity of the bat, filled with cork. It was thought that this adjustment caused the ball to jump off the bat with greater speed than a conventional bat and was in violation of Major League Baseball rules. This controversy was a topic of conversation around the country for a period of time; certainly it was at Latrobe Country Club.

During a round of golf with Mr. Palmer and the usual suspects, AP asked no one in particular what would happen if he corked one of his wooden drivers. While guys laughed and joked, I thought it over and said, “I seriously think you need to try it.” Mr. Palmer no longer smiling replied, “Yeah, I think so too.” Nothing else was said about it and to be honest by the end of the round I was thinking more about my own play and not much about modifying a driver.

The next morning I made my usual stop at the workshop. As I walked in the office I could hear a drill running back in the shop. “What are you working on Boss?” “I am corking this driver,” was the reply. He had taken the sole plate off one of his Peerless drivers and drilled a hole at least an inch and a half in diameter and about an inch deep. He then epoxied cork in the new cavity. You might find it strange he had cork readily available, but I am witness that this was the best stocked golf shop in history. If Mr. Palmer didn’t have it, it wasn’t needed.
He left town that day for a tournament and the following Monday during our weekly practice session it became time to hit the drivers. Grabbing the “modified” driver he hit the first shot. Over the years I had worked for him I had seen him hit thousands for drivers from the same spot, in the same direction and the only comment I had after the first swing was “Whoa.” The ball flew farther out onto the range than any drive I had ever seen him hit. The look on his face was priceless. My best description would be the look of a five year old at Christmas.

Over the years I have come to understand exactly why the driver worked as well as it did. The industry has caught up by offering longer drivers with lighter heads. We are really seeing a lot of that for next season. What the industry, as well as the consumer will find, is that there is a good fit and too much of a good thing is worse in many ways than not enough. The next version of the corked driver broke because the head was weakened by drilling a hole twice as large as the original. He also found he had a difficult time on windy days using a club head lighter than the first. The original version was perfect and became his tournament driver, or gamer, until it was replaced by a titanium head a few years later. That titanium head weighed and was balanced exactly the same as the corked driver, by the way.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Something to Think About

One of the big golf events of the summer here in Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan was the opening of the Nicklaus Designed, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan. For the Grand Opening, Jack Nicklaus, Mr. Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson conducted a clinic and played a team skin game. Like many other golf fans I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see these four together and maybe get a chance to see and shake hands with Mr. Palmer and lucky for me my bosses found a way for us to go.

I stood in the crowd, on the path to the practice range, thinking the only chance I would have to get his attention was as he made his way to the practice tee for the clinic. As he pulled by in his cart I yelled, “Long ways from home aren’t you?” He laughed when he heard my voice and that is when I realized I had made a tactical error. He stopped the cart and came over to shake hands and just that fast I was surrounded. Not by a few people, but by hundreds, typical of AP he never missed a beat as we traded updates from when we had last seen each other. He even signed some autographs as we stood. He got the better end of it as he was adored by all and I got stabbed with Sharpie Pens.

The next great part of the day was the wake up call I got from these greats during the clinic. The first came from Tom Watson, as he told the story of learning the game from his Dad. Tom said that the first lesson from his Dad showed him how to grip the club and then how too make the ball curve by showing him how to hit hooks and fades. Not one way to stand and one place to position the ball and then search for straight. Experiment; there is no success or fail, only information gained. I know well the story of Mr. Palmer’s first lesson from his father that was in essence the very same thing. What I didn’t realize was that the first lessons for Johnny Miller and jack Nicklaus were the same as well. Later on Mr. Palmer took the mike and offered the following advice. In this world of methods and systems he told the audience that the best way to play the game was to find your own way to play the game. So what was the wake up call? I had grown up in the business knowing these two things to be absolutely true, but I had gotten away from these concepts in an attempt to be like other instructors. Unfortunately in my business the right way isn’t always the most profitable way. But never the less, my job is not to show you the best way, it is to help you find yours.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Putting Advice

It is an established fact that when putting the face angle at impact contributes 82% of the putts direction. Putter path is 18%. Incoinsistent path direction is one of the most common issues for all putting strokes. The reason is due to the necessity to rebuild posture and alignment for every stroke. The best putters are consistent in their alignment but not necessarily exact. Great putters always show a directional bias. We think it is due to how they see the task best. In a recent article Jack Nicklaus admits to left eye dominance. He found that an open stance with his eyes over the line of the putt is where he saw it best. Regardless, this consistent posture / alignment created a consistent path that was not necessarily straight or down the line. There is no doubt that a flat reminder on a grip can assist in keeping the putter square to the path. But what if the path is not on the intended line? Odds are you won't change the path direction, it won't look right so you steer the putter to try and make the putt. Imagine we build a robot that looks just like you. The key factor in a robot making a putt is how the putter is attached to the robot. No grips on putters for robots. So what we found is that for some players with very consistent postures and setups it is easier to attach the putter using a round grip. Using a round grip is easier than getting a flat surface at the perfect angle.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The number one request we get at the Academy is for more distance off the tee. Since most of our clients use a driver not fit for the specifics of their swing, the solution often involves a search for a new driver. Unless they are here with us, this usually means demo days and launch monitors, indoors or out, with people whose job it is to sell you a club and not necessarily find the best fit for you. These fittings are typically number searches. Hit a number of drivers and find which one produces results closest to ideal launch, spin, and speed numbers. While this method is better than no information at all, there are some critical issues often overlooked, especially, in this era of interchangeable weights and shafts.

Make sure when you analyze launch numbers of a new driver, that you know exactly where on the club face you strike each shot. Why? Most important, regardless of ability, you never want to use the results of a mishit golf shot to fit a club, even if you like the results better than your current driver. This is a perfect example of “you get what you settle for”. What if with a little more knowledge and investigation there are better results available? What we need to find is the best location to strike the ball to produce the best results. This wasn’t a great concern in the old days; the woods were small enough that there wasn’t much room for error. You either hit the sweet spot and you knew it or you missed the shot. With the oversized heads of today there is the “in between” factor. Reasonable results that assume this is as good as it gets. But is that all there is?

With all the different options and set ups available with the modern drivers, you can’t assume that the best place to strike the ball is in exactly the center of the face. The drawing is an example of a typical fit. The red mark is the center of the clubface. The yellow mark is where we find the best combination of low spin and best ball speed. Why it is located here and not in the center requires a long explanation and it might not be necessary to know the science behind the reason. Suffice to say that how the driver is designed, the components that are used and the way the driver is set up are all contributors. So knowing why it is not at the center isn’t important, knowing the location of the true sweet spot is critical to our success. Let’s assume using the example above, we find the best results at the yellow mark, but we assume it is located on the red. While impact (green) is just off center (red) the assumed hotspot, you are ½ inch off the best location (yellow). A ½ inch miss with the most forgiving club ever made will still be less than a good strike. Acceptable, maybe, but if more distance is the issue, we are a long way from successful. The moral of the story is if the person fitting you to a driver can’t explain how to find that yellow spot find a different fitter.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hands - Important and Overlooked

If you are an avid reader of golf instruction and golf swing advice like me, you will be hard pressed to find anything written about the function of the hands in the golf swing. You can find volumes of material written about what the golf club should do, but very little about the importance of the hands and their role in what the golf club does. The popular trend in instruction is to assume that your hands are reactive to the shoulders, torso and legs, rather than the traditional thought that the hands are proactive with the shoulders, torso and legs serving a supporting role. Every day I am more convinced that this “modern method” is wrong. Here is my argument why.

The golf ball goes where the face of the club tells it to go. Where the face of the club is pointed and how fast it is moving provides the majority, about 85%, of the information needed to determine where the golf ball goes. The only connection to face of the club is the grip of the golf club with the hands. So the hands provide about 80% of the information needed to control the flight of the ball.

Where the body is positioned, how it turns and reacts to the club during the swing, determines the direction the club moves through the ball and how fast the club will move. But these mean nothing unless the club is controlled by the hands. For example, your body can create speed, but if the club is not firmly attached at the hands the speed is wasted. The body will also create a direction the club will travel, but again, because the face controls direction, without control by the hands you can have a perfect path and the ball going in the wrong direction.

The hands are easily the most proactive part of your body. It is silly to think they would take a subservient role in the golf swing when they are the only point of attachment. Try this analogy. I am trying to drive a screw with a screw driver by holding the screwdriver with my hand and walking around the screw. What if you were trying to speed up the operation? You would be reduced to how fast you could run around the screw and still hold on to the screw driver. Now picture a simple turn of the hand and wrist.

Make some small golf swings and focus only on using your hands and arms to swing the club. Find a grip that will let the club easily swing all the way through to the finish. You will find it works best if you use hold the club in your fingers rather than the palms of your hands. Finally, do whatever you can to strengthen your fingers during the offseason, especially your top or lead hand. This will go a long way to improving your golf game.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Favorite Tips of all Time

I have been very fortunate in my golf career to spend some time around some really great and talented players. Without exception, they have all been very generous with their time and expertise. Often standing on the lesson tee, something will trigger my memory of a conversation with a certain player that pertains to what the current player and I are working on. So I thought I would share my favorite advice in the hopes it will help you as well.

“Feel the ground with your feet.” The first things to go when you are hitting the ball poorly are your tempo and balance. This used to happen to me on a regular basis. The pro I worked for at the time asked me if I could feel the ground with my feet. When I told him yes, he asked me to swing the golf club and not lose that feeling. I hit the ball better right away.

“Control the clubface with your right hand.” Great players control the face of the club and with that the shape of the shot with their right hand. Of course, it is the left hand for lefties. They use the palm of their hand to control the clubface. If your palm is facing up at impact you will slice. Going to toward the target at impact and the ball goes straight. If the palm rotates over so the palm is facing toward the ground the ball will go right to left. Most golfers, when things go bad, skip the most important fundamental of the swing, to control of the clubface. By connecting the clubface to your right hand mentally, you have more control and more predictable shots.

The last one is the hardest to for my students to believe, but when used the most effective. The difference between people who putt well and those who struggle is that players who struggle steer the putter through the ball to the hole in an effort to control the direction, while the great putters swing the putter with no sense of direction. That is the tip. Swing the putter with no sense of direction. Let your body alignment and posture dictate the shape and direction of the stroke and not by steering the putter where you think the ball should go. To prove this try the following drill - regular readers of the column have read this before – aim the putter, take your stance, close your eyes and swing the putter. You will find that your direction improves immediately.

The next time you play a round of golf try to follow these three simple suggestions. Don’t worry about mechanics or if you are doing anything right or wrong. If you stay connected to mother earth, control the clubface with the bottom hand, and swing the putter with no sense of direction you might have one of the best rounds of your life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Understanding Bad Golf Scores.

It recently occurred to me that while we have discussed many of the questions asked at the United States Golf Academy, I had avoided one of the most frequent, “How can I have a great round one day and be terrible the next time.” Obviously, there is no easy answer for that one. There could a million different specific reasons, but the consideration of why someone can’t play to their potential on a consistent basis is something that can keep you up at night.

As a younger man I wanted to be a tournament player first and foremost. I worked very hard on my game, but did not have the success I hoped for or felt I deserved. After hearing me complain over and over, a good friend, who was very knowledgeable about tournament golf, sat me down and gave me three things to consider as I tried to understand why I was not playing up to my expectations.

The first point he made was that you cannot play the game when you are mad. It is one thing to complain about a bad result or misfortune, but if you are still thinking about it by the time you reach your next shot, the emotions will eventually catch up with you and result in some poor golf shots, which will make you angry, which will result in more poor golf shots. Eventually, you get out of the rut because you are too exhausted to care, but by then it is usually too late.

Second, he told me you can’t play scared. When you pick a golf club and a target you have to believe you are going to hit the ball as planned. If you play scared or assume a miss, you make timid swings that lack confidence. A full swing with confidence is always better than a scared swing, even if the scared swing produces a reasonable result. If you have always played scared you will never know how good you can be.

The final point he made was, “Is it possible you are not happy with your score because you have overestimated your ability?” You especially have to understand the difference between skill and luck. The tendency is to over-estimate your ability. In my case it was too many better ball games where I made a lot of birdies, but forgot the other scores that didn’t count. Another example, if you play in a lot of charity scrambles your team score is a lot lower than your individual score would have been. In addition, you might hit some good shots, but you don’t have to string them together. In the end you have a false impression of how you played for the day. This false impression often leads to taking the game for granted and avoiding the areas of your game that need improvement. I guess honesty is the best policy in golf as it is in life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making the Game Easier

My job description as Director of Instruction for the United States golf Academy is pretty simple. Answer questions about golf. This week I was asked the ultimate question for someone in my position. “Why is the game so ____ hard?” (I will let you fill in the blank.) This is an instance where the answer to the question might be more complex than the solution to the problem. Hundreds of thousands of pages have been written describing the challenges of playing golf. I have written a few myself, and I have come to the conclusion that while it is important to understand the details of hitting a golf ball, it is also easy to become lost in an attempt to apply them.

Part of the problem, when attempting to describe the golf swing is that the description of the problem is offered in mechanical details. Wrist this way, hand that way, head stays here, shoulders do this, and feet placed there, all static descriptions of moving parts. These are important, but not more important than understanding the principles of motion. Balance , Rhythm and Tempo.

Balance. When your body is in motion your mind is constantly sending signals to all parts of your body to accomplish one thing. Keep you from falling down. So if your mind has to make an adjustment to keep you from falling down and that movement doesn’t match the best way to swing a golf club, the result is a poor strike and probably lousy results. More players have balance issues than mechanical issues.

Rhythm. I describe rhythm like a musical beat. Some swings are two beats, one the club goes back, two the club goes forward. These are up tempo swings like Ben Hogan or Tiger Woods. Others have three beat swings. One back, two on the transition from backswing to forward swing, three down and through. These swings are typical slower and longer, like Payne Stewart or Sam Snead. We all have a natural rhythm and our best results come when our golf swing matches it.

Tempo. Tempo is the amount of time it takes to complete your swing. Your goal as a player is for the time to be exactly the same for every swing. Too many of us change our tempo or time depending on how hard we think we need to hit the shot. The best players vary the length of their swings slightly using the same amount of time. For example a full swing at full speed takes 2.5 seconds. A ¾ swing at a slightly slower speed still takes the same 2.5 seconds. Keeping the time the same is what helps us control how fast the club is moving. We naturally relate to time so this is easier to achieve than it sounds.

As I wrote in the beginning, the explanation was more complicated than the solution. Make some swings with your eyes closed. Find a swing in balance, using your natural rhythm and tempo and see if this doesn’t make your game a little easier.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Distance Control for Putting

I was fortunate to be part of a team that introduced a game improvement technology called PuttLab to the United States. PuttLab is an ultrasound device that attaches to your putter and measures in great detail every movement of the putter during the stroke. Using this information, we can help players build a more functional putting strategy, based on personal tendencies, rather than forced body positions or concepts. We recently completed the first phase of a study, using PuttLab data compiled from students of the United States Golf Academy over the past three years. We made some fascinating discoveries about how people putt. One however was eye opening and was the only one that has applications for everyone.

We have the ability to measure the time of the stroke to 1/1000 of a second. The time is then broken into three categories 1. Time of the backswing. 2. Time of the forward swing to impact, or the time when the putter starts forward toward ball to impact. 3. Total forward swing or the time from the start of the forward swing to the end of the follow through. When measuring the time to impact we confirmed what had been found in an earlier study done by the company that developed the technology. An average stroke takes 1 second or 1000 milliseconds from start of the backswing to impact with the ball. The lower the handicap of the player the closer they were to exactly one second, as the very best players measured 950 to 1050 milliseconds. More importantly, we discovered the total time to impact did not change with the length of the putt. A five foot putt took one second to impact as did a fifty foot putt. So what does this have to do with controlling the distance a putt will roll?

The data proved that the best way to control distance is to vary the length of your stroke to the length of the putt, rather than using the same length backswing for all lengths, slowing down or speeding up depending on perception. Use a long stroke for long putts and a short stroke for short putts, with the time of the stroke being consistent at one second. The easiest way to control the time is to simply count to one second like we used to do as children, one thousand one. Start the count as the putter goes back and hit the ball on one. It takes a little practice, but you will find as you change the length of the putts your stroke will almost naturally speed up or slow down as the length of the stroke changes. Over a short amount of time you will develop a feel for the distance the putter needs to swing to control the distance you need. Another benefit is that your direction control will improve as well, as the putter position at impact is more consistent as the timing becomes more consistent.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Change in Perspective can Change your Game.

Prior to any lesson, at the United States Golf Academy, there is an interview session and often we hear comments of the same theme. Their game lacks consistency. They can hit some great shots and then some lousy ones, never knowing what might happen next. Our follow up question is, “Why, do you think your golf game is inconsistent?” This is when the student usually loses his or her patience with us and says something like, “That is the reason I am here, because my golf swing is never the same two times in a row!!!”

The longer I try to teach this game, the more I have come to realize that the idea of an inconsistent golf swing is probably the source of the problem. If you read this column with any regularity you have heard me rant against constantly trying to change your golf swing in an effort to fix the prior shot. We change the way we swing the club when the problem is probably not the swing at all. What we really need is to learn to use what we have, rather than search for something we don’t.

Go outside with any golf club and swing. No ball or target, just swing the club. You will notice that every swing will feel the same. You will move the club in a nice full motion with no inhibitions at all. This is a great start. It is proof that the swing will repeat if you let it. With that knowledge we can make the following statement; IF WE CAN REPEAT THE MOTION WE CAN FIND A BALL POSTION THAT WILL PRODUCE A GOOD SHOT.

So if we use our “practice swings” every time we will eventually learn to make contact with the ball. It might take a change in posture, or where the ball is positioned and it also will take some time for your body to learn where the location of the ball. But if you keep trying the same swing you will eventually make contact. This is when we need some patience. As all of you know, just because we make contact does not mean the ball will travel in the correct direction. We have to find out how to connect the golf club to the swing so that the face of the golf club is pointed the correct direction at impact. The goal becomes for the ball to travel in the same direction as the path of the swing. If the path is left the ball, should go left. If the path is to the right then the ball should travel in that direction. If the ball is not going in the intended direction the player has two choices. Learn to curve the ball to bring it back to the desired target, or change the original body alignment to match path to target. The end result in either case is better contact and more consistent results.

Friday, August 20, 2010

End of Season Suggestions

Our lessons at the United States Golf Academy have a similar pattern. We typically start with a mid iron, a 6 or 7 iron, and hit a few so we can get an idea of how the player swings the golf club in a broad sense. We discuss fundamentals and the different techniques that might help them improve their ball striking abilities. Then about half way through the lesson we almost always get a comment like, “This is great but my real trouble is with the driver.” So we haul the driver out of the bag and after about 4 swings I am usually walking back into the Academy to find a driver better suited to their style of play. I think we have seen enough players to write this with no reservations. The majority of amateur golfers are playing with drivers that do not fit. They blame the golf swing when the problem is the equipment.

In the old days there was a natural progression to your equipment. The shafts were the same weight and make up, and the average length of a driver was 43 inches. The driver fit was an extension of the iron fit. Today the average length is 45 inches and there are thousands of loft, face angle and shaft combinations available. Besides getting the right combination of components, it is important to understand that this difference in dimensions changes posture and setup from the irons to the driver. While the motion is similar - it still looks like a golf swing - the task is much different. For an iron, the ball is on the ground, with the modern driver the ball is teed 3 inches off the ground, to compensate for that change alone you have assume a difference in the fit of the equipment.

Now a word of caution, just because someone says they are a club fitter, doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. We do more refits than we do first time club fitting. Before you make the decision to be fit, do some homework. First, look for club fitters who are also instructors, or work in conjunction with an instructor, or are willing to work with your instructor. If the fitter knows what they are doing they will have no problem working within a team atmosphere. Second, go to a serious fitter who has made an investment in the technology available. There is no substitute for the accuracy of a good launch monitor or any other technology that can help. Third, don’t be afraid to ask why? The fitter should expect their customers to question every comment they make. They should understand the science behind the suggestions and feel obligated to explain. Finally, have an open mind. Don’t let marketing and branding, influence your decision. Some clubs perform better than others for different individuals and a good launch monitor will separate the good from the bad for you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Self Help Guide for Better Golf

I have joked around for years that if I ever get around to writing a golf instruction book it would only have 3 chapters, of about 1000 pages each. It has been that way since I started teaching and nothing has happened to change my mind.

Chapter 1 would be titled, Controlling the Club Face. It would describe the concepts of attaching ourselves to the golf club and how we grip the club influences how we align our bodies to the ball. How a strong grip where the hands are rotated in clockwise manner to the club might work with a body alignment that points right of the target for a right handed player. Or how a weaker grip works when the body is aimed left of the target, or vice versa. It would examine the concept of how the face interacts with a golf ball and how in order to control direction we have to control where the face is pointed at impact. The most important point of this chapter would be that the hands must work in conjunction with the body and not as a separate entity.

Chapter 2 would be simply called, Balance. This chapter would talk about the posture we use to swing a golf club. Where to bend, what to keep straight, and how these points influence the path shape and direction the club moves as it is swung. More important it would discuss how in order to make a swing change you must make the proper posture adjustments to do so consistently. The final part of the chapter would investigate how far the club travels in the back swing, and how the length of your swing must be limited to how far you can take it back before there is a change in posture or loss of balance.

Chapter 3, Speed, would analyze how the speed in your golf swing is created so that your body remains in balance through the swing. It would ask the question, how much speed can your swing create until your hands cannot control the club? Every golfer, tour pro to beginner, struggles at some level with how much effort they can make to create more speed in their golf swings and how that effort impacts controlling the clubface. Many of you can swing the club pretty fast, but you can’t get the face square to the target at impact.

So that is it. For every problem you ever encounter on the golf course, the answer can be found in one of those three categories. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about chipping, putting, iron shots or driving the golf ball. As you evaluate your own game, think in terms of these categories and ask yourself these three questions. Do I do something with the club face during my backswing that I have to fix in the forward swing? How far can I take the club back until I lose my balance and how fast can I swing before I lose control of the club? The knowledge gained will help you play better golf.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Golf Swings by Committee.

A very smart person once told me that the best way for an individual of my limited mental capacity to understand how our brain works in a golf swing is to realize that for the purposes of swinging a golf club, our brain is not one big brain, but a million little ones. Each small brain has a specific job while working in conjunction with the rest of the other brains. For example, the brain that controls the right index finger works in conjunction with the rest of the brains that control the right hand. They in turn work with the other brains, which control the other body parts involved with the activity. So in a sense we swing the golf club by committee. If you try to take that line of logic one step further, I guess it would be fair to say that the best way to swing a golf club is to not start a fight within the committee.

Without question the most frequent instigator of the battles that occur within the committee of brains responsible for swinging the golf club is the eyes. We have even coined a term for it. We call it visual interference. Rather than swing the club in circle around our body as the body is a position to do, our vision perceives a straight line to the target and we route the club on the perceived straight line to the target. This always causes a mishit shot. The solution to this problem is to not allow the eyes to interfere once the club is in motion. Don’t try to steer the club to the target. Swing the golf club through the ball and let the club face take care of direction.

Another visual issue that creates a fight is when the eyes move during the swing or shift attention while you are in motion. Your body, particularly your hands, then reacts to the new visual. This shifting of focus and eye movement during the swing is particularly troublesome when attempting short shots and putts, where the combination of precision and speed is most important. Let’s use a putt as an example. The player swings the putter away from the ball and the eyes follow the putter. At some point toward the end of the backswing the eyes shift back to focus on the ball. The hands and arms then react to the new “target” by rerouting the club and moving where the eyes have focused. This reroute and interruption of the stroke causes the putter return to the ball in a different position than the start and we miss the putt. Other examples of missed shots caused by a shift in visual focus are countless. Skulled chips, missed short putts, shanked wedges, and any number of full swing problems can often be traced to eye movement during the swing. So next time you play, instead of trying to keep your head still, try keeping your eyes still and maintain focus on one place all the way through the swing.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tips for a Better Short Game.

All of us know someone who has exceptional skills around the green. High, low, check or run they just always seem to have the right shot for the circumstance. So what is it that makes them so different than the rest of us?

Probably most important is that a player with a great short game has a great imagination. They understand there is a best way to get the ball to the hole and they can picture how high it will fly, where the ball will land, and how much it will roll. This ability to “see” the shot is important not only for the experienced player, but even more so for the player trying to learn the skills necessary to hit the shot. It helps the learning process. You are more likely to learn the skill when you have an idea of what you are trying to achieve, than when it happens by accident. So succeed or fail always try to picture how a shot will play out before you attempt it.

The second difference is understanding the relationship between balance and ball trajectory. Quite simply, if your weight is over your back foot the ball will fly high. If the weight is over the front foot the ball will go lower. Of course, the actual height is influenced by the loft of the club but you can vary the trajectory for any club by changing your balance. One way to control this is by how you place your feet when you take your stance. If a lower trajectory shot is required put the club behind the ball and then put your front foot in position as if you were going to hit the shot on one leg. If a higher shot is required place put the club behind the ball and then place you back foot in position first. Again as if you were going to stand on your back leg to swing the club. The body will balance over the leg you place initially and the ball will be in the correct position relative to that stance.

The final difference to understand is that the hands control the club and the shoulders supply the power. You need your hands to control the position of the clubface during the shot. They cannot accomplish that while they are trying to move the club through the ball. That is where the shoulders come in to play. If you are having a hard time understanding this try the following drill. Find two old washcloths; put one under each arm so that your upper arms stay connected to your chest. Now go and hit small shots using just the motion of your shoulders and a small swing of the arms restricted by the washcloths. Don’t allow them to fall! For you handsy players this will be difficult at first, but as you work through it you will find the less you use your hands the easier to hit the ball in the middle of the club face.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Play Golf or Play Swing ?

One of the difficult tasks we have at the United States Golf Academy is explaining the difference between the golf swing and playing the game. One of the results of increased media exposure to the game is that people are more aware of golf swings, and the theories behind them, than ever before. When Arnold Palmer was winning everything in the early 60’s about all you would ever hear or read was about his style of play and how it seemed to be different than his competitors, Can you imagine the media’s reaction to Mr. Palmer today. His golf swing would be scrutinized and criticized a million different ways. Never mind how successful he was, the golf swing wasn’t correct. The game is so much more than how you swing a golf club, yet, every poor result is blamed on a bad swing. Here is the real truth. You are much more likely to have a poor result from a bad decision than a bad golf swing. How do I know that to be true? Because I have never met a golfer who has not hit at least one good golf shot in their life. So if the swing has produced a good result why doesn’t it happen more often?

You blame your swing for a poor result and you spend the rest of the day fixing the swing. You slice the ball off the first tee and spend the rest of the day trying to fix the slice, rather than working on how to get around the golf course in the fewest number of shots. Trying to fix the slice is what I would call a bad decision. If you can remember how you hit the slice, at least you can predict the outcome of another tee shot and plan for it. Is it the way you would like to hit the shot? Probably not, but at least you won’t ruin the whole day searching for a new result. There are hundreds of examples of poor decisions that lead to poor results, yet we always blame the swing. Like cutting the corner of a dogleg that requires a distance you can’t normally produce. Swinging harder at an iron shot than you normally would because there is water between you and the green. Hitting your three metal on the second shot to hole because it is the “right thing” to do regardless of how comfortable you are with that club.

The next time you play, just play. Don’t judge, don’t try new stuff, and don’t fix anything. Spend your time and energy finding the fastest route around the golf course that doesn’t require a best ever shot. Aim the club, grip the club, set your feet (in that order!!!) and then swing. Go find it, decide the where and how for the next shot and repeat the action. Play the game rather than analyze the swing. Mr. Palmer will be proud of you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Putting Help

At the United States Golf Academy we have taken a special interest in putting and we are becoming well known for our efforts. We just recently finished a three year study documenting over 12,000 putting strokes with our PuttLab technology. We combined that with over 18,000 strokes from a database of research done prior to our time at the Academy. Our findings from this study were in many ways surprising and certainly did not agree with some of the most common advice on putting.

Our most important find was that understanding the visual aspect of putting was the key to becoming a better putter. It is very clear to us that all golfers see things differently and so how the head and eyes are positioned for the most accurate view of the putt has to be different for each player. The standard of having the eyes over the ball does not work for most. Finding where you see the putt best will determine two things. Ball position and body posture, or how you stand to the ball.

Once your unique posture and ball position are determined, it is then very important that you have a putter fit to the proper length and lie angle to connect the distance from hands to the ball. It is much more common to see a golfer contort themselves to fit the putter they have in the bag. Quite simply that doesn’t work. The putter has to fit the individual not the other way around.

Once the putter fits, how the stroke is shaped, and the direction the putter swings, must be determined by the player’s posture and distance from the ball. You cannot try to steer the putter visually during the stroke to satisfy whatever impression you might have of the best or right way. Once a fit putter is aimed, it is important that the stroke becomes a mechanical movement determined by the fit, and choice of putter. Not something you try to do. We call this getting out of your own way and it is the secret to successful putting. If you try to manipulate the putter while it is in motion you might get lucky once in awhile, but for the majority of the time you will fail. When fit to the proper dimensions a putter should swing easily, this is helped by the design, balance and weight of a putter, the second important aspect of the fitting and putter selection process.

An easy test to see if you have the correct putter and fit is to hit putts with your eyes closed during the swing. Aim the putter, set your body, then close your eyes and swing. If your putter works for you there will be no change in efficiency, eyes open or closed. Over 90% of players who participated in the study were more accurate with their eyes closed after the fitting process, than they were with their prior technique and eyes open.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Playing under Pressure

Golf event season is in full swing. Member Guest Invitationals, Company Outings, Charity Events, Club Championships are all examples of golf events that create more than an average level of pressure. As many of you already know, weird things happen to your golf swing when you are anxious or nervous. It happens at every playing level and it is something we deal with at the United States Golf Academy regularly this time of the year. The following are some of the ways we help our player’s deal with event pressure.

Avoid the Jump Starts. When we are nervous, we often start the club back by straightening our legs and literally lifting the club in the backswing as if it weighed 12 pounds instead of 12 ounces. I have called it the jumpstart for many years because that is exactly what it looks like. The player looks as if they are jumping up in the air. A typical suggestion from well meaning advice givers is to slow down, but the player still lifts the club and tries to jump slower, creating an even more awkward looking take away. The solution is not to change speed, but to change which body part moves first. My advice is to make a forced effort to lead the back swing with your arms and shoulders swinging the club away from the ball, keeping your feet in touch with the ground. This gets your swing started in the proper sequence, so even if it is faster than normal you still have a good chance of solid golf shot.

Don’t Over Analyze. Most of you have played all year with approximate yardages on the full shots and estimated the breaks on the putting greens, so just because the event has some importance is no reason to change the way you play. For example, playing a casual round of golf if I asked how far to the pin you would probably say, “around 150 yards.” But you get in a tournament situation and the answer becomes 142 to the front, 153 to the flag, and 162 to the back of the green. This information is useless unless you have dealt with similar yardages in the past. All the new information does is increase tension levels in your effort to be better than usual. The same thing happens on the putting green. What used to be a casual read of the green is now a heavily scrutinized effort from both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, in either situation, your brain has no idea what to do with the information.

The key to playing your best is to play within your comfort level. Don’t try to become a tour pro, just be you. The winners of most events are not those who produce the most spectacular shots, but the players who make the fewest mistakes. You might find that your normal is good enough to beat the others who are struggling under the pressure of the event.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Understanding your Golf Swing

Did you ever have a day on the golf course when everything seemed to work? Your golf swing felt effortless and the ball went farther and straighter than ever? Most of the players we see at the United States Golf Academy think it is just luck when these rounds of golf occur. What they discover is that it is not luck at all. It is just a matter of having a better understanding of their golf swing.

First we have to realize that the golf club does not swing itself. It moves as directed by your hands. The hands move in conjunction with your arms and shoulders. The arms and shoulders are supported by the remainder of your body. When all these parts move in a proper sequence, we see great results. When the sequence is disrupted we get lousy results. So how do we find this proper sequence of motion?

As you are searching for your proper swing sequence, you might have to give up direction control temporarily. All we are looking for at this point is solid contact with the golf ball. It is much easier to correct direction once we understand how we move when we swing the club. Once the swing is in sync, if there is a problem controlling the club face, which controls ball direction, it is usually develops as a consistent problem. Like a slice or a hook. A consistent directional miss is a lot easier to deal with than unpredictable and random ones.

Now the discovery process gets a little more complicated. We have to figure out what moves first, what happens next, and how the club gets back to the ball. The easiest way I have found to do this is to try and verbally describe your golf swing. For example, I had the opportunity to watch Arnold Palmer hit thousands of golf balls. I describe the sequence of Mr. Palmer’s swing like this: The left arm swings back as the right hip turns to clear the way. The shoulders then turn to take the club to the top of the back swing. Once the shoulders finish, the knees start the downswing by shifting toward the target and once the knees get moving, he swings the club to the ball with his hands. Left arm back, right hip clears. Turn to the top. Knees to the target, hands to the ball. That sequence produced the best results for him. Your sequence will be different. For example, if your swing is more upright, the shoulders will lead and then the arms will lift. Regardless, what is important is not to look for perfection but to identify what works for you. It then becomes much like a mantra. The more you repeat it even without a club, the more consistent your swing and the better your golf.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Common Golf Swing Problems.

I think it would fair to say that we see as wide a variety of students, at the United States Golf Academy, as any golf school in the country. Yet even while all these swings are different, I seem to talk about the same things regardless of skill level. For this week I thought it might be helpful if I would list a few of the most common issues, in the hopes it would help you evaluate your own swing and game.

Bad Grip. Easily the most frequent problem we discuss. The most important factor when swinging a golf club is how your hands fit to the handle. It is also the most difficult issue to address. As a player you get used to the feel of your hands on the club and when a professional asks you to change, you fight them because it feels different. Remember that a new feel might also mean new and improved results. I have a standing offer; anyone who stops in the Academy looking for help with their grip, the lesson is no charge. It might be the best deal in golf.

Posture. The second most common fault is what I call the twisted posture. Shoulders aligned in one direction, hips in another, feet all over the place. This is usually caused because we set our feet first and then twist the rest of our body to the golf ball. As I have said many times before, get your hands on the club first, get the club on the ground behind the ball, position your shoulders parallel to the direction your wish to swing the club, and then adjust your feet to your shoulders. It is hard to get out of position if you use this method.

Over Swing. Most struggling golfers take the club back too far in their backswing. There is a point of no return in every golf swing and in order to be a good player you have to find that point. For every one swing I see that is too short, there are 50 that are too long. Our Director of Golf, Pat Bayley has a great method to show the limits of your backswing. Stand as if you are going to hit a golf shot. With your right or back arm reach back and up as far as you can. Now without moving your right arm reach back with the left or lead arm as far as you can. You will notice there is quite a difference from the location of your lead arm and the back arm. Your back swing length is limited by how far the lead arm can go back regardless of how far you can reach with the back arm. Many players will contort their bodies so they can reach the back arm. This causes a loss of balance and inconsistent strikes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Different Approach

We spend a great deal of time at the United States Golf Academy talking about different theories and methods of swinging a golf club. No one loves these discussions more than I, yet in the back of my mind I always wonder how productive they are?

The key to playing the game is learning to predict direction and distance. This is achieved by consistency of technique, not from the search for a “best” technique.
Direction is determined by the position of the face at impact, the direction the club is moving and where you strike the ball on the face. Where the ball strikes the face and how it influences ball flight, is called gear effect. Balls struck on the heel or close to the shaft will curve left to right for a right handed golfer. If the ball is struck on the toe it will spin right to left, opposite for left handed golfers.

Distance is controlled by how fast the club is moving at impact and where the ball strikes the club head. One fact often overlooked is that we can’t make up the distance lost on a bad strike by trying to swing the club faster.
If you analyze your game from this point of view there is one variable that influences both direction and distance. Where did you strike the ball on the clubface? Even though modern golf equipment is much more forgiving than the past, the net gain is evened out because today’s golf courses are much longer and more demanding. Regardless of equipment nothing has really changed in the past 150 years. So how do we hit the ball in the middle of the club?

First, you need to find where it is. This is pretty easy. Hold any golf club on the shaft between your thumb and index finger. Now take a tee or a pencil and tap the face. The club will swing back and forth and you will feel the club try and twist if you are off center. As you move around the face of the club you will find the spot where the shaft does not twist between your finger and thumb. That is center of percussion on the golf club or more commonly known as the sweet spot. This is the spot we want to use to strike the ball. I often suggest that you mark that spot with a dry erase marker.

The next time you play, mark that spot on every club in your bag and make your only goal for each shot to rub that mark off the club with the back of the golf ball. Eliminate all swing thoughts for the entire round other than trying to hit the ball on the mark. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning to Aim.

This past week we received a number of calls at the United States Golf Academy looking for help on aim and alignment. It might surprise you to learn that each conversation was completely different. Aiming and then putting your body in the proper alignment is much more complicated than the point and shoot method used by most golfers.

The first thing to do is select your target. For most of us the problem starts right here. It isn’t that we are poor aimers; we aim correctly, but often at the wrong target. Depending on your skill level, the target might not be the obvious middle of the fairway or the flag on the green. A good rule of thumb is to aim to the place you have a reasonable chance of reaching and will give you a fair chance to reach the next target.

As far as the logistics of aiming, remember that we aim the golf club and align our bodies based on where the club is pointed. The ball is going to start where the clubface is pointed at impact, not necessarily where we are aligned. So it is much more effective to aim the clubface rather than trying to aim our body. We also have to realize that aim is a visual exercise and we all make visual observations differently. Just ask the next ten house guests to help you straighten a picture on the wall. You will get ten different opinions.

It is a great help to understand that each of us has a dominant eye we use in the aiming and aligning process. Finding your dominant eye is easy. Make a small circle with your index finger and thumb. Hold the circle up and focus on an object within the circle. Close one eye. If the object is still in the circle your open eye is your dominant eye. If the object has moved out of the circle, your dominant eye is the closed eye.

The only accurate way to see the relationship of the ball, the club and the target is from behind the ball looking down an imaginary line with your dominant eye, the ball and the target, all on the same line. This is the only way to get an accurate picture. Trying to aim from the side is impossible, but even if you are behind the ball looking toward the chosen target, if your dominant eye is not on line with the ball and target, the picture will be skewed.

The final tip is to remember the imaginary line you have chosen is for the golf club and not your body. Your body must be aligned parallel to this line and perpendicular to the bottom edge of the club, not pointed at the chosen target.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Golf Ball Fitting



If you have any questions please email or call at 574-936-9798 ext. 793.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Golf Advice for the Ladies.

At the beginning of the year the United States Golf Academy introduced the United States Golf Academy for Women. Our goal was to draw attention to the fact that while it may not be politically correct to admit it, there is a difference in how we should evaluate and teach the game to men and women. The differences are more numerous than one column can handle, but I would like to point out some of the most obvious.

Let’s start with golf clubs. Just because it says on the box they are ladies clubs doesn’t mean they work for every lady. You don’t see generic men’s sets. Even at their most basic, men’s golf clubs at least have shaft flex options. Ladies sets always have generic “ladies” shafts. If the truth were told, when fit to the correct flex and more important the correct weight shaft for their swings, players with slower to medium swing speeds gain as much or more benefit than players with faster speeds. Moral of the story, never choose a shaft by gender.

Ladies, the quickest way to start playing better golf is to get equipment that fits and you have the right combination of golf clubs in your bag to satisfy your distance needs. The traditional set of golf clubs 3 woods, 8 irons, 2 wedges and a putter was established by golf equipment companies. They were trying to take advantage of the consistency of steel shafts and mass market golf equipment. In the hickory shaft era, because of the variables in hickory shafts, sets of clubs were accumulated one club at a time, based on the players distance needs. That was and is still the best way, especially for players of slower swing speeds. If I look in a man’s golf bag I will typically see a mixed set, but when you look into a woman’s they are always matched sets in the traditional set up. The clubs need to match the player, not themselves!

Our first advice to the ladies who attend the Women’s Academy is to pick out your favorite clubs and put the rest in the trunk of the car. Using your favorites only play a few rounds and evaluate your needs. There is no disgrace in having favorites. These are the clubs that fit your swing. Now evaluate for distance. For example, you might hit a 7 wood 140 yards and your next best club is a 7 iron that goes 100. So for starters you need a club for 120 yards. If there is a club in the car that works, use it. If not let your local PGA pro help you find one that does.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hold on to the Club.

Sometimes the easiest solutions to our golf problems are the fundamental things we overlook. One of those is grip pressure. Imagine this for a moment. We have a robot that makes a perfect swing every time. If the ball is in the correct location, the robot makes the swing and the ball flies high and true. Now for the next shot we loosen the set screws that connect the club to the robot and hit another shot. You can imagine the results.

Ball striking is much simpler if you have a secure grip on the club all the way through the swing. Sam Snead advised to hold the club as if you were holding a bird, light enough to not hurt the bird but with enough pressure to not let the bird escape. I think that advice is sound but I prefer the advice of Jackie Burke Jr. who says to pretend the bird is a hawk. The vast majority of players we observe at the United States Golf Academy quite simply do not hold with enough pressure to maintain control through the swing. You can tell when a player has grip pressure issues by simply watching their swing. Instead of a smooth motion building speed until impact, the club goes moves in an irregular pattern of slow and fast. You will also see unusually long backswings, as the player relaxes their hands at the top of the swing and the club head drops or dips.

Check your glove. Are there wear marks in the palm of the glove? Do you have large calluses on your non- glove hand? Do your hands sting? Is there a tendency to hit the ball fat or top one occasionally? All of these are often the result from not having a solid connection to the club. The solution is simple to say, “hold on to the club,” but hard to implement. Next time out, try this: Start with very small swings and focus on your hands. Hold the club securely but not so firm that your wrists lose flexibility. Relax your shoulders and your arms. Now extend your swing. As you swing back farther, are you able to maintain control of the club? Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed and try to maintain your grip. If you focus on control rather than speed you will find the quality of the shots improve. If this little drill is difficult, it is probably worth a trip to your local professional to talk about a change in grip size or grip profile. There are a number of new grips on the market that are larger under the right hand. It might just be the solution to the problem.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Choosing a Golf Ball.

Let’s start this week with a riddle. What is the one piece of golf equipment used for every shot you play? Give up? It is the golf ball. One more question. How do you decide what ball you will use during a round of golf? The most popular answers are: “Any ball I can find”, “Whatever someone will give me”, or “the ones I got for Christmas.” From the United States Golf Academy point of view these are not the answers we are looking for from people trying to shoot lower scores or play more consistent golf.

Now at this point in the discussion we usually hear the ball doesn’t matter. That is just not true. The advances in golf ball technology are leaps and bounds past the advances in other equipment. In addition, there is a much greater range of performance in golf balls. Some fly high, some fly lower. Some spin, some don’t. Some work better at slower speeds; some are built for only the fastest. All these selections require some thought as to which one would best suit your game. As you evaluate your choices, try to do it without thought to distance. Everyone wants a golf ball that goes farther and you can easily choose a ball that will help you find some more distance. But, achieving that goal with a golf ball choice skips some important aspects of your game. For example, ask yourself this question. Could you use some help stopping the ball on the green? A different golf ball might just be the solution.

Why does this matter? Simply put, each time you change golf ball models you have to change how you play. It may seem like a small thing, but when the ball ends up in a bunker or off the back of the green, or 20 yards shorter than you expect, those results might been influenced by the golf ball you chose for the day. I have yet to see a golfer yet who would not benefit from some consistency and it is tough to be consistent when you change equipment for every round. How can you predict what club to hit if you’re uncertain how the ball might fly? By finding a ball you like and sticking with it, you might find some confidence that you have chosen the correct club. If you are looking for some help keep us in mind. On Sunday June 13th, Rock Ishi, Golf Ball Designer for Nike will be at the Academy from 11p.m.-3p.m. for a seminar on how to find the right ball for you. This is free, open to the public and a rare opportunity to learn from the source on how to find the best golf ball for you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Using a Line on the Ball for Putting

One of the problems to using the line on the ball is that player's react to it with their strokes. Let's use Tiger Wood's stroke as an example. Tiger opens the putter more than average on his back swing. A perfect arc is about 4 degrees open to 4 degrees closed (Iron Archie robot. Tiger uses about twice that much. So right at impact you see this hit or rapid closing of the putter at impact. For Tiger that brings the putter to a closed position realtive to his path. So his best strokes are a little inside out.

Some players using a line have straighter paths with less rotation. But the same release!! Closing the putter more and hitting pulls. We thought that release was a reaction to the line. After about 6 months of tests I can say with some confidence that it was. For every player I worked with who used a line I asked them to hit some putts without one. The release changed and slowed dramatically. For some the problem was amplified because once they hit a couple of pulls they began to steer or search with every stroke and lost their consistency.

This is not a knock on using the line!! Only an example of how some can't use it. There are many players who use the line successfully. Anything is possible with some knowledge.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Old Thoughts on New Technology

Last week, during one of our Academy sessions, we discussed how to best utilize the new technologies available in golf equipment. I was asked if I thought the great players of past generations would be better had they been able to use modern equipment in their prime. As a former employee of Arnold Palmer and the fortunate observer of a number of great players during my career, I feel I have a few educated opinions on the subject and some of them might surprise you.

1. They would enjoy the distance control provided by the new golf ball technologies. The golf balls of my childhood and development years were really poor compared to today.

2. They would appreciate the consistency of equipment. Manufacturer’s specifications for golf clubs are much more specific than even 15 years ago. Finding a good driver is easy today compared with the search Mr. Palmer had to endure. Finding and compiling a set of playable golf clubs was hard work in his era. It is much easier today and a shame if you have not taken advantage of the improved fitting potential of the new technologies.

3. But for these instances and some other lesser points, the truth is they would not really notice much of a difference. Why? They hit the ball in the center of the clubface, every time. The new technology has not done much to improve the quality of a perfectly struck shot. What about distance? The distance increase is the same for everyone and not just a select few. So there would be no real competitive advantage. The long hitters are still longer.

So my answer to the question is no. They would still great, but not better as they had already achieved what the rest of us are looking for. Their scores might be lower, but so would the guys they were beating. What separates the great from the runners up is the ability to predict what the ball will do on any given shot. That ability only comes from hitting the ball on the same spot on the golf club every time.

Even though the modern equipment is much more forgiving and makes playing the game more fun, you still need to hit the ball on the sweet spot. The real benefit of a good club-fit is to help you find the center of the club on a more consistent basis. Mark the back of a ball, so impact marks the face of the club. How are you doing? If the strikes are all over the face you might want to get with a professional to find some help.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Little Patience Goes a Long Way

Most of us play golf with the hope that there is always a tomorrow and the expectation of better things, or in this case a better score, on the golf course. For some of us this does not happen nearly enough, but there are always those one or two days a year when the planets align and we shoot that score that keeps us coming back. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Some of us think it is a matter of luck. We use the same color tee or the same lucky coin or maybe it is a lucky shirt or blouse. But what happens when the luck runs out? Or does it really run out?
It wasn’t luck. Your best score is has the potential of being your everyday score! What often happens is that we get impatient. Our rhythm and tempo was smooth and everything seemed easy on the good day. But, as soon as a shot goes astray we start to change our alignment, grip, swing path and /or tempo because we automatically assume we did something wrong. That begins the process of fixing the last shot with the next swing. Assuming a miss is a great technique to use in shooting higher scores not lower.
What we really need when things go bad is patience, not change. Golf is a game, not of perfect, but of controlled misses. Some terrible misses won’t hurt your score too bad. Like that time you hit a drive two fairways over and had a perfect lie with a clear view to the green. Some near misses cost you dearly, like the ball that just missed the green and hit a stone that kicked it back into a pond. The secret is not to react. It was just one shot. You have had poor results before and this won’t be the last time it happens.
Stay patient. With patience comes consistency and with consistency comes better play and lower scores. Remember every time you make change, you start over. Develop a routine, find your best rhythm and tempo and use them every time regardless of results. If a shot pattern emerges like a slice or you hit it fat or top it, then come see someone like me. I promise it won’t cost much because with patience and consistency also comes consistent misses. A predictable shot shape is much easier to analyze and utilize than the unpredictable one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Remember the Basics.

I have a German colleague and mentor, who is probably one of the smartest people in the world. Over the past few years his research has involved golf and in particular the study of the motion of putting. A year or so ago I asked him after all of the study and work had he discovered a secret to playing golf. He said that he had. I was in great anticipation of some remarkable insight when he shared that the secret was, and I quote, “To get out of your own way”. I went on to thank him and suggest that was no great insight and I could have figured that out for myself. His reply was brilliant, “So why don’t you use it?” So in honor of my friend, here are some tips to help you get out of your own way.

Find the bottom of your swing. The most important fundamental in golf is positioning your body so that the ball is at the apex of the arc of your swing. This is more easily achieved if you will use the club to tell you where to stand rather than placing your feet first and searching for the ball. Remember when preparing to make a shot, the sequence is club to the ball first, and feet last. Not feet first and twist your upper body to position the club. This seems like a simple tip and it is something that every accomplished player understands, but, even with this knowledge, most of us will revert back to our feet first habit.
Swing the club, instead of trying to hit the ball. Since most of us don’t have the ball in the correct position when we swing, we have learned to try and hit at the ball rather than swing the club and let the ball get in the way. Most struggling players come to a stop at the ball rather than swinging the club all the way to the finish. This slows you down at impact and the effort to steer the club often puts the club in a twisted position at impact, causing directional problems even if we do get the club on the ball. End result – short and crooked.

So now you have been reminded of the two most important fundamentals. What do you do with them? This is the getting out of your own way part. The next time you play or practice, try this. 1. Set the club behind the ball and point the face at the target. 2. While you are looking at the clubface and without moving the club, take your stance so your body is perpendicular to the face. 3. Make a full swing! No hit, no try, no what ifs, just swing. Don’t judge the results, just keep doing the same thing. The results might shock you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Driver Fits

One of the most popular services we offer at the United States Golf Academy is a 30 minute session on how to find the correct settings for your new adjustable driver. We think that the invention of the adjustable shaft for drivers could be one of the most beneficial technological advancements we have seen. Unfortunately, like all good things it depends on how you utilize it.

The most common problem we see is a player that slices the ball off the tee. When you use technology to solve the slice you limit your ability to get better. Why? Golf is a side on game and the spin of a draw golf shot best matches the rotation of the swing and golf club. In other words the best golf swings produce a right to left ball flight for right handed players and the opposite for lefthanders. All good players can draw a golf ball, although they may chose not to, while poorer players often play a fade or slice because that is all they have. So as an example of a techno fix, you buy a driver with a draw bias, or an adjustable driver set to a closed position, to correct the slice. Then you come to one of our schools to improve your swing. Unfortunately, our job is now to teach you to hit the ball left with your new driver, because your best golf swing when using a draw bias or closed face driver, should hit the ball left. That is what the driver is built to do! It is a tough assignment because as we see an improvement in your swing, you see the results of a ball out of bounds left. You think we have lost our minds because we are encouraging a swing technique that produced poor results. Because we are all result oriented, you fall back to a swing that steers the ball into the fairway sacrificing the speed and potential distance you could utilize with the better swing.

The advantage of an adjustable driver is that it allows us to improve your golf swing and enjoy good results, without having to buy a new driver every time we see some progress. We start with an adjustment that gives you the best results for that day. If it is a bias for a draw, good! Keep working on your swing to hit a bigger draw. When the ball flight is out of control adjust the driver to a new setting that has less bias. Don’t stop there. Keep going! You will know you have gone too far when you can’t hit anything but a low push or fade. We call this technique “bending the left out of the shot” and what you will see is an increase in distance every time you can make an adjustment away from a draw bias.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Major Grooves

The Masters Tournament begins this week and because of its status as a major tournament and tradition it is always a very significant golf event. For me, this year’s event is more important than ever and not for the reasons you might think. This will be the first major tournament held where the players will be required to play wedges without the benefit of the high spin grooves. The new wedge regulations have been the topic of debate at the United States Golf Academy since the rule was announced. How much impact will the change have on professional players? So far the results on tour have been mixed, with some examples of miss played shots around the green, and wedges shots that fly unpredictable distances due to the lack of spin, but the Tour players have not yet played conditions like they will face at Augusta.

While it is not something the everyday player gets to experience, there is no question that playing in major golf events has been easier because of the increased spin created by the modern milled grooves. The penalty for hitting a tee shot in the rough is lessened because the high spin grooves allow the players to have more control out of longer grass. But maybe more important is the difference in the control a tour level player has when playing green side shots. Over the past few years I have seen hundreds of shots from around the greens at the Masters that would not be possible without the help of the golf club. The speed and firmness of the greens combined with the reduction of spin will make for some very difficult up and downs. Even if it is subtle, a couple of feet here or there can really make a difference when you play a golf course with greens like Augusta. Five feet is a lot tougher than three. Next week we will discuss the effect of spin on the everyday player’s wedge shots from the rough and around the green. So your home work for this week is to watch some of the tournament to have a better understanding of the pros and cons of spin groove wedges.

Another reason I think the tournament will be important is a sentimental one. This year is the first that two of the game’s greatest players and gentlemen will be the official starters of the event. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus together again and even if it is only for one swing, it will do the game a lot of good to see them together. These are two guys who professionally always judged their actions on what was best for the game, rather than what was best for them. As a former employee of Arnold, I know of a couple of instances where he walked away from some very lucrative opportunities simply because he felt they were not in the best interests of the game and I know Jack did the same. I hope seeing the two of them together will remind the fans how great the game can be. Maybe this is a tall order for just one swing, but I think these guys are up to it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Women’s Golf Academy

It is not going to shock anyone to learn that we live in a world heavily influenced by advances in technology. This is certainly no surprise to those who have followed the new discoveries and game altering changes realized by the game of golf over the past 15 years. Of course, most obvious to the everyday player has been how technological advances in golf equipment have stretched the physical boundaries of the game. But it is technology used behind the scenes, and the data that can be collected analyzing how a golf ball reacts when struck with a golf club, that will truly revolutionize the game.

The United States Golf Academy was one of the first golf schools to make the investment in the diagnostic equipment available to study a golf ball in flight. After thorough research the Academy purchased two Trackman Pro ball flight monitors. This “radar based” technology tracks and measures every parameter that influences a golf ball in flight with amazing accuracy. Trackman is considered the industry standard in obtaining ball flight measurements and this information combined with legislated limitations on golf equipment provides a clear understanding of the distance a ball can fly when a particular golf club is moving at a certain speed. For example, if a driver is moving at 75 mph at impact the best one should expect the ball to carry is around 165 yards. At 90 miles per hour the carry increases to around 215. Using these base statistics allows us for the first time to measure the efficiency of method, equipment and most important the combination of the two.

While the original goal of the Academy was to use the measurements as a guide to fit and test golf equipment, they were surprised by the additional discoveries the data provided. The process began by comparing different swing techniques to the ball flight information. The swing methods were grouped by considering two parameters, swing plane and club head rotation. In other words, how does the direction the club approaches the golf ball and the amount the clubface opens and closes while it is in motion, affect the speed and spin the ball has in flight. As the Academy analyzed the ball flight data from their Trackman Pro ball flight monitors and compared to the video tape of the swings, one thing became apparent very quickly. Depending on a players needs, certain combinations of technique and equipment were much more effective than others. Nowhere was this more noticeable than when evaluating women’s golf swings using standardized women’s golf equipment. Based on these studies the United States Golf Academy has recently made a strategic decision to offer the United States Golf Academy for Women. This was not a decision that was made lightly, but as the studies continued the need for a different strategy for the women’s game became obvious. The Academy could no longer take methods and techniques created with a man’s game in mind and try to apply them to women and will release their findings at the Academy for Women beginning with the 2010 golf season.