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.