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.

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