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.