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



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