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.