Friday, December 30, 2011

Golf-Using a Circle to Hit it Straight

In any discussion of golf strategy or method the word straight gets tossed around without thought. I am always a little nervous when we speak of straight, because if I am completely accurate there aren’t many straight lines in the game of golf.

We swing a club in a circular manner, to strike a round ball, that flies and rolls on a curved path, to a hole that is round. The landscape where we play the game has curves and bumps and is a mass of uneven lines. These are the facts, but when we discuss playing the game we do so more often in terms of straight lines and I can’t help but think that we would be better as players if we would think in terms of curved lines rather than straight.

Perception is a huge part of playing golf. What is the best way to get from point A to point B? If I use a straight reference in a curved environment I might confuse myself rather than have a clear perception of where I would like the ball to go.

The golf club, when swung properly swings in a circle around your spine. So if I chose a straight line to reference the target I have to figure out how the circle matches the straight line reference. First we need to know that the ball goes primarily where the face is pointed at impact. Next we need to understand that the direction the club is moving creates the spin. The spin makes the ball curve. So a ball that travels with a minimum amount of curve occurs when the face is perpendicular to the path it is traveling and when the circular motion of the path matches the direction we wish the ball to leave the club. Take a look at the following drawing.

This is a model of an average swing with the ball placed at the apex of the circle and the bottom of the arc. So if the face of the club was perpendicular to the yellow and black lines at the moment of impact we would see a shot that would fly without much curve from side to side and in the general direction of the target.

This model is great, but there is a problem. Not all the clubs in our bag are built to be struck at the bottom of the arc. Some clubs like our driver work better when we strike the ball as the club is coming up which is past the bottom of the arc or left in our diagram. So we need to adjust the circle to match the straight. Maybe something like this:

Our wedges work better when they are used hitting on the downward side of the arc or right of the ball position diagramed. So the adjustment might look like this:

So with these three diagrams you can see that since the straight line to the target never changes we have to learn to control the circle that is our swing to control the direction the ball flies. Mastering the circle to improve your ball striking takes some work and study to understand but it is the key to playing better golf.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Solving the Visual Puzzles of Golf

When working with my clients I find our longest discussions are about the visual aspect of the game. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Vision is the most influential of all the senses when we play golf. Where are we and where do we intend to go are constant and critical questions. Where to align the body to swing the club? What direction does the club appear to be pointed as viewed from the side? What is our perception of the target’s location when viewed from a side on position? Getting an accurate picture to use when making these decisions can be difficult.

The problem is we trust what our eyes tell us, even if the “picture” they create is not accurate. This inaccuracy occurs much more often than we realize. Since visual and perceptual inaccuracies have an influence on the basic fundamentals of our golf shots, it has to be difficult to set ourselves correctly if we don’t see the direction accurately.

While we all see things in the same manner our perception of what we see is different for everyone. Much of this is caused by the concept of a dominant eye and its position relative to the image. Since there isn’t much agreement about how a dominant eye influences us as golfers we are left to our own devices to find our own “best way” to find an accurate view of the target. The classic method to evaluate the idea of a dominant eye is to make a circle with your index finger and your thumb. Holding the circle at arms length put an image in the circle. Now close one eye. Does the image stay in the circle or move? If it stays the open eye is your dominant eye. If it moves, the closed eye is the dominant one. Now do the test again closing the opposite eye first and see if the results are the same.

In any golf situation it helps to create an imaginary line at the ball, but many of my students have trouble with this concept. What I have found is that it is easier to create reference points either from behind the ball ending at the ball or in front of the ball going toward the target. In an interview with my online clients I found there seems to be a correlation between the dominant eye and which side of the ball they look to create this imaginary target line. The following is a test I have had some success with. Get a 12 inch ruler and a golf ball. Set the ruler on the ground pointed to a target across the room and put the ball at one end of the ruler. Now with a golf club set the club behind the ball and set up to the ball using the ruler as a reference to the target. How does the ruler look in relation to the target? Now put the ball at the opposite end of the ruler and do the test, again setting up to the golf ball. Was there a position that looked like the ruler was aimed more accurately? If there was we suggest that you focus on that side of the ball when try to create an imaginary reference for your set up.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter Analysis of your Golf Swing.

There are two phases of learning to swing a golf club. The first is the application of the basics. We have to learn to position ourselves to swing the club as it was designed to be swung. As a player we have control of three things. Where the clubface is pointed at impact (direction), the direction the club head moves as it approaches impact (spin and curve) and how fast to move the club and still control the first two. It is very important to remember that we don’t control the distance the ball flies. That is controlled by the golf club. So how should I hold the club to control the face, and where do I stand? This is very much the same for every golfer. Keep in mind it is best to use the club as a reference for where you stand as each club is built differently. I have found the best way is to grip the club, set the club on the ground, with the face pointed in the direction you want the ball to go. From there move the shoulders perpendicular to the clubface. Now let your hips and feet follow the lead of you shoulders. Do it this way and the rest gets easy
Phase 2 is to find an efficient sequence of motion. How do you start the club away from the ball, how do you finish your backswing, and what initiates the movement of the club to the ball? As you develop the sequence do not try to dictate where the club goes. The sequence of movement will take care of this for you. Once you find a sequence, you will discover you may need to make adjustments in three categories,
1. Control of the clubface. The ball is going to go start where the face is pointed at impact. The sequence you chose must maintain the relationship of the position of the clubface to the arms throughout the swing.
2. Determine if the swing is in balance with the movement of the club. A body in motion will seek a point of balance. If I lose my balance, my body will try to correct the problem on its own. This is rarely a good thing. The problem usually occurs when the body counters the movement of the club. For example, as the club moves right the body moves left to counter the weight of the club. This would be great if we were trying to stay in the same spot. But we aren’t, we are trying to swing the club with some speed and that takes some movement. It is much more efficient for the player to move with the club rather than against it.
3. How fast can I perform this motion, maintain my balance and control the clubface. It helps to now remember something I mentioned earlier. The club determines the distance the ball flies, not the player. Our job is to learn to swing each club with a similar effort that allows us to stay in control.
A little time this winter working on these principles can do wonders in helping your golf game for next season.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Golf’s Silly Season Offers Answers.

One of the aspects of competitive golf that is noticeable in the limited field events of the silly season is the importance of having short game skills. Wedge play, imagination around the green, and putting skills are always important of course, but I notice the expertise, or lack of same, much more in the limited field events. More shots, from fewer players gives a better feel for how a player gets around the golf course.

Jim Furyck, Steve Stricker, Tiger’s putting on the last day of the President’s cup, and Zach Johnson in the Chevron are all great examples of utilizing short game expertise to separate themselves from their competition this fall. How does this offer an answer to your own golf score issues? Short game skills are learned and not dependant on physical ability, so the example set by the great players is achievable for us all.

For today let’s focus on the wedges. The first step in creating better short game skills is too make sure you have the right equipment and that the equipment fits your method and style. I know you have heard it all before, but club-fitting is more important as the club gets shorter. Wedge fitting is very important and the most neglected. Lie angles, shafts, club head construction are all critical elements that have a huge influence on your ability to play the variety of shots necessary to improve your short game.

The golf club has more influence on the golf ball, than the player! A golf swing produces three things, speed, face orientation to path direction, and an angle of attack. The knowledge of these aspects is critical to learning to play all golf shots. However, if the equipment doesn’t fit the swing the results are at best unpredictable. For example, a swing that would produce a shot on target, with the correct trajectory, flies low and left if the lie angle of the golf club is too upright at impact. Now what do you do? Change a correct swing action to adjust for the golf club? You are asking for trouble. The variables you must add to your technique to correct for a poor fit just adds steps to the mental checklist needed for every shot. How many variables can you remember?

The good news is that wedges are easily fit indoors with a launch monitor and a lie board. The launch monitor will give you the speed, spin and launch information necessary. A lie board will show you how the club impacts the turf. This information is needed to determine what grind at the bottom of the club and the different lofts appropriate for your style of play. A competent fitting professional can walk you through the process. If it all seems too confusing, you can always contact me through the media outlet you find the column and I will be glad to help you through the process.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Daily Golf Lesson

Daily Golf Lesson-It isn't the method, it is the application of the method. Memorize the sequence of motion with clubs that fit the method.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Putting Discovery

I recently had to have some work done on my car. A wheel bearing on the front had gone bad. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I wondered aloud why one bearing would wear so much faster than the other. There was a great deal of speculation, with no real answers, but one comment really got my attention. “There must have been some excessive vibration in that wheel.”

Over the past 6 years I have spent most of my spare time studying putting strokes using a technology called PuttLab. This system shows in great detail the movements of a putter during the stroke. One of the parameters shows the opening and closing of the putter as it swings toward the ball. In many putting strokes, even when the putter is attached to a robot, we see an irregular pattern to the rotation. The putting stoke might be very consistent in all aspects, yet we still see this irregular pattern of movement as the putter swings forward.It looks something like this.

Same player same day using a different putter.

I am constantly searching for a better way to explain this phenomenon. With the help of my friend at the auto repair center, I have come to understand this pattern as a vibration. A vibration caused when the design or balance of the putter is not matched to the motion of the player. No big deal right? The putter doesn’t do anything. We have all the control. In a broad sense this might be true, however there is one problem. We humans react to what we feel. So how does a golfer react to a club not balanced to the motion?

They take a firmer grip on the club. A natural reaction to anything in your hand that is vibrating is to hold on tighter. Your hands will absorb the vibration and it eliminates the feel. If you took a poll of 100 golf instructors asking for tips on putting, I am sure that every one would have “eliminate tension” on their list. So with the wrong putter we create a vicious cycle. Do what the pro asks and it feels bad. Do what feels better and the tension ruins your stroke. This is especially true when you start without any tension in your stroke, and then react to the feel while you are in motion. We see this reaction to the vibration, caused by an imbalance of putter to motion, in all but the very best players. As I said before if we look closely we can even see it when using a putting robot with the wrong putter for the motion.

How do you solve the problem and find the correct putter for you? First you have to understand your stroke. Are you close to the ball or further away? What powers the stroke, shoulders, arms, hands or a combination? While it sounds complicated it is fun to learn and as is true in most endeavors knowledge aids improvement. Look to professional help, I can be reached a and would be glad to share what we have learned.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Case for Round Grips on Putters.

For more than 50 years having a flat reminder on the grip of your putter has been the accepted standard equipment for putting. With the invention of Science and Motion PuttLab, the ability to measure putting strokes precisely shows some very strong evidence that using a reminder grip or grip with a flat side may be a detriment. The following is an attempt to make my case.

1. We have to realize that in all golf swings, not just putting strokes, the club head moves in a circular motion. To try and do other wise is mechanically very difficult. Shoulders move in a circular motion around the spine, arms and hands move with the shoulders, also around the spine. So unless you can make your arms grow longer during the movement, the putter will move around the spine in a circle defined by the length of your arms. The arc at the bottom of the stroke will be straighter or more curved at varying degrees depending on the tilt of your spine and how far you are from the ball. The closer you are to the ball the more upright the circle and so the arc at the bottom of the circle with appear to move straighter than an arc tilted away from the ball.

2. The vast majority of golfers are more comfortable with the ball away from them when putting rather than close. Due to this set up most players swing the putter on a tilted circle that would create a curved path at the bottom.

3. We have found many of the golfers who mechanically are set up for a curved path try to swing the putter on the straighter line. This is the dilemma for most golfers. Trying to make the circular motion of the putting stoke match the imaginary target line that is straight. We call this steering the putter.

4. The desire to steer the putter is influenced by the references we use. A line on the putter, lines on the ball, and a flat reference on the top of the grip are all guides or aids to help us move the putter on a straight path.

5. It is easier to fix the steer than try to move the path to straight! There are physical reasons we stand off the ball. Vision, comfort and balance are not variables we can easily change to match a desired path. We can make the changes but over time we will regress to original position.

6. To help eliminate the steer it helps to eliminate straight line references. Especially the grip. As the putter swings and moves in the curved motion we still reference the flat portion of the grip to target. This conflict between perception – the straight line and actual path causes us to twist the putter as it moves along the path. The ball goes primarily where the face is pointed at impact as 82 % of the direction the ball leaves the putter is determined by face at impact. The twisting motion of the putter as we try to match curved to straight makes controlling the face of the putter much more difficult than if we simply allowed the putter to swing square to whatever direction the putter is moving during the stroke.

So by replacing the flat with a round reference on the grip we lose some of the urge to twist the putter while in motion. The “feel” reference of the straight line is gone and we are more likely to allow the putter to move freely with the path. Without the steer the results of the stroke become more predictable and our new found consistency makes us a better putter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Putting - Take Nothing for Granted.

Normally I am not one to suggest changes to the game of golf. The game has been around a great deal longer than I, and all situations of play were long ago hashed over and solved for the best. However, I do believe for the good of the game we should abolish that great destroyer of friendships, the conceded putt. It is the only time your opponent has any influence on your score and therefore the only time you have someone to blame other than yourself for a misplayed shot. After years of experience on both sides of the issue I have concluded that human beings are far too weak to handle the responsibility of conceding a putt or accepting a conceded putt. In either case there are always problems.

Years ago as the professional at the Latrobe Country Club, I was invited to play with Mr. Palmer and two of his guests who worked for the same organization. Mr. Palmer was partnered with the CEO of the company and I played with the other guest. The CEO, feeling he had the better of the game suggested we all play for higher stakes than normal. I knew I was on the bad end of the bet, but unfortunately was in no position to complain. Little did I know it would be worse than I expected. Over the course of the round my partner set some kind of record for conceding putts and all around sucking up to his boss and Mr. Palmer. Every shot that came within 10 feet of the hole was conceded by my partner. “Good shot! Pick it up.” “Great putt, the rest is good” followed what seemed like every shot at the pin. On top of that, when our team rolled one up to the hole our opponents came down with the worst case of lock jaw in history. The only time I heard the words, “that’s good” directed at me was when I suggested the turkey sandwich at the halfway house. Finally I could take it no more. On a par three hole late in the round the CEO hit a shot that rolled off the tee and was still a long from the hole. He began to curse and complain about his misfortune when the frustration of losing took over and I said, “Oh quit complaining, all you have to do is get the next shot on the green somewhere and my partner will give you the putt for a routine par.” I still have nightmares about the looks I got, especially from my boss. Like I said conceded putts are nothing but trouble.

All kidding aside, the most important reason to eliminate “gimmes” is simply that they hurt your putting. They of course have a role in match play events as part of the team strategy, as long as your teammate is truly on your side. But in everyday play it is much better to putt them all in, especially this time of year when the greens are not as true. Make yourself putt the short ones. You putting will be better for it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning from a Master.

When I worked for Arnold Palmer in the late 80’s and early 90’s I watched his practice sessions as often as I could. I spent hours asking questions, trying to understand his methods and how he became so successful. It is a testament to what a great guy he is that he never showed the slightest impatience at what I am sure he considered routine inquiries. It was during this time video was just becoming an integral part of golf instruction and in the hopes of being ahead of the trend, I bought a state of the art system. Totally portable, with a huge battery so I could take the technology with me on the practice tee. I couldn’t wait until I could use it with Mr. Palmer.

On the first available day, I had the system setup on the practice tee at Latrobe CC. When he arrived he asked, “What is that?” I explained and went into a long explanation about what it could do. In response I got a simple “Oh”. Turns out he never really looked at his swing on film much or thought much of its use. His explanation to me was that his swing never appeared on film like it felt to him. Over time he used the video, but he only watched his swing in real time. He never stopped the action and watched frame by frame the way we so often do today. It took me a while, but I came to understand why. He taught me that a golf swing is not an accumulation of positions, it is a movement done in sequence. He also taught me that bad swings are really swings out of sequence. When Mr. Palmer saw the frame by frame pictures of the movement, he lost the sense of sequence or feel he had for his swing. In other words he couldn’t translate real (the video) to feel (his swing). Even now, 20 years later I am convinced that understanding the sequence of your swing is the best way to learn a consistent efficient golf swing.

So in an analysis of your own golf swing, a good goal for the winter is to figure out what moves first, what happens next, and so on until 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, the sequence of Mr. Palmer’s swing could be described 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. As the shoulders finish, the knees start the downswing by shifting toward the target and after 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 might be different, but you can build a better swing by simply describing how you move as you swing the club. Memorize the sequence and you will learn how to repeat your swing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Using the Offseason to Improve your Putting

At a golf show a couple of years ago I took some time way from our booth to listen to a local instructor discuss his theories on the golf swing. He spoke for over an hour on the subtle details of hitting a golf ball. After all of that analysis and expertise he opened the floor to questions. The first questioner acknowledged the instructors knowledge of the golf swing and then said, “I struggle with my putting, do you have any advice to help me putt better?” The instructor smiled and said, “Putting is an individual thing, best advice I can give you is to go practice.” This guy could write volumes on his opinion of full swing technique, but one sentence for the other half of the game. I shouldn’t fault this instructor; he is no different than the rest of the industry. Do an internet search on golf instruction and see how hard you have to dig to find advice on putting.

Our instructor is no different than the average golfer. We all have a tendency to credit our putting success to luck and superstition rather than knowledge and skill. I personally believe this is the one reason golfers don’t see the improvement in their games they would like. In every lesson I give I inquire to the player’s perceived weaknesses and more often than I care to count they tell me putting is the problem when they have come to see me for help with their full swing.

Winter is the perfect time to work on your putting skills. It requires a little time and a surface to roll a ball. Let me start by saying that all we can work on in the winter is mechanics. I will often have people build indoor putting greens with a straight putt of about 10 – 15 feet. They will then brag about heir ability to make 50 or 100 in a row on that surface. Then start the season and miss the first putt they hit. The reason is while they have learned how to make the indoor putt they have only developed the skill to start the ball in the correct direction at one speed. This doesn’t address the task when you play. Every putt you hit when you play has different requirements of speed and direction. We need a way to learn to control direction at a variety of speeds.

Try this simple drill. On a flat surface put a dime about 18 inches in front of your ball. Now roll the ball over the dime, each time using a different length stroke. Focus on the length of stroke you make and do it in a similar timing and tempo. Slow for the short strokes and faster for the longer strokes. Don’t worry about the results or that you don’t have a target down the line. This practice is about controlling what you can control, the initial direction the ball starts and learning how to develop the proper speed.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Solving the Visual Aspect of Putting

The majority of golf equipment manufacturers would insist that the only putters that sell well feature intricate sight lines. This is the current marketing sizzle. However, from an instructor’s point of view, this can be a deterrent on the road to better putting for many people. Why?

In putting, everyone perceives the designated target differently. For example, if you have trouble seeing straight lines and are attempting to use a linear strategy (line on ball, lines on putter, every putt is straight mentality), more problems than solutions may be created. If you have linear tendencies and use a line on the ball, that is often a sufficient aid.

Sight lines on putter do not always point in the same direction as a perpendicular line from the face. Take a 2X4 and set it on the ground. Take your putter and square the face to the end of the board. Look at your alignment aid. Is it pointed in the right direction? You would be shocked at how many are not, and it really does not matter if it truly is aligned correctly. How it looks to you is all that matters.

The loft of the putter has some influence on this visual as well. With the face on the 2 X 4, move the shaft toward the target and away, keeping the face in the same position relative to the board. Does the line appear to change directions? Some designs are better than others, but more often than not this adds to the visual confusion.

Finally, many of us cannot accurately align the lines on a putter with a target when looking at them from the side. Our perception is that we are accurately aimed, but this is often an illusion. The most common mistake is that we aim the line at the ball, rather than the target. If the line points at the ball, we convince ourselves that we have aimed correctly because the ball has become the target, rather than aiming the putter in the direction we wish the ball to travel. When we use putters with lines that frame the ball, the problem often becomes worse instead of better. Now we really do a good job of pointing the putter at the ball. We have found that eliminating the lines on a putter takes away the distraction and helps the player focus on the intended line rather than on the ball.

Every time you add a layer of information to your putting strategy, you create a condition that must be controlled. This gets complicated, but it suffices to say that more layers cause more confusion and make the condition harder to stabilize. The confusion caused is so great that you are never quite sure what stroke you are going to use when you stand over a putt. Elimination of an incorrect visual reference helps strip away some of these layers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Swing Hard - Hit it Straight

In a couple of weeks the President’s Cup, the final big golf event of the year, will be played in Australia. As I have watched the media discuss the Captain’s picks concerning who should play and who shouldn’t, I can’t help but think that this was one team competition where the final spots should have gone to the Captains themselves.

Fred Couples and Greg Norman are two of the best players of my generation. Both of whom still play some pretty good golf. Fred basically birdied ½ of the 54 holes he played to win a recent Champions Tour event. Greg hasn’t played as much lately, but I would take him even coming off a layoff, any day. Greg was a resident of Bay Hill when I was an assistant there in the early 80’s and we played quite a bit of golf together. It is possible he is the greatest driver of the golf ball in history and I am not the only one who thinks that way. Every drive I ever saw him hit just took off, stayed in the air for a very long time, and landed on the same line it left the club. This is with unforgiving persimmon woods and high spin balata covered golf balls. Regardless of my personal opinion, both had the incredible ability to hit the ball both very long and very straight. No matter what event you are playing, long and straight works.

In a comparison of both swings you might not see much similarity. Fred has a long, loose, easy motion to his swing while Greg’s is more mechanical and exact. But even with the difference in appearance there is a common aspect of their swings utilized by most great drivers of the golf ball. They both swing their arms on an upright plane. They combined this action with a lateral, rather than rotational use of the body, which results in the club staying on line for a longer period of time.

For those of you like me that find it harder to turn shoulders and hips like we could when we were younger, the concept of upright and lateral, might appeal to you. The sequence of motion for this technique might be described like this. Inside and up is how I would describe the backswing. Take the club back on a path inside the target line. The more inside the better, and when the hands get about waist high just lift them straight up in the air. Jack Nicklaus, another upright swinger, called this reaching for the sky. To start down swing your arms as fast as you can toward the ball, while your hips slide and your weight shifts to your left foot. Slide don’t turn, In and up, then down and left. Try it, you might find this swing to be the answer to you ball striking issues.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fixing a Slice.

I supposed if someone asked me the most common problem I deal with as an instructor, it would have to be the Slice. For right handed players this would be the ball that curves to the right and for most the ball curves too much. After years of different methods, about 10 years ago I realized the best way to fix the problem is to help the player to understand the problem. So how does a golfer hit a slice?

The first thing you need to know is that the ball starts where the face of the club is pointed at impact. If it is pointed right it starts right or left it starts left. So the first question to ask becomes, “Does the ball start right or left of your intended line? “

The curve is caused by spin. Spin is created when the direction the club is moving doesn’t match the direction the clubface is pointed. For example, if the path direction matches the direction the face is pointed, the ball goes straight on that path. If the path does not match the direction the face is pointed the ball spins and curves. The ball curves in the same direction the face is pointed relative to the path. If the face is pointed right of the path for a right handed golfer the ball curves right, and if it curves enough we call it a slice.

The solution comes from understanding the relationship of the face to the path. For right handed golfer the face is always pointed right of whatever path the club is on. Armed with this knowledge we can ask the question that fixes the problem. Why is the face pointed right of the direction the club is swinging?

The problem is in how a golf club is built. Because the shaft attaches in the heel or inside edge of the club, the club rotates around that point as it moves. In order for the face of the club to stay perpendicular to the direction the club is moving, the toe of the club has to rotate faster than the heel of the club. Slicers do not allow the toe of the club to move faster than the heel! The toe lags behind the heel as the club comes forward. I don’t think there is a best way solution other than to hold a club in front of you and get the feel of moving the toe of the club around the heel of the club. I think you will see this motion is created easily by rotating your forearms, hands and wrists. You will also feel and see it is easier to rotate the toe of the club faster coming forward if the toe rotates faster going back. If you can develop the feel of controling the toe of the club, longer and straighter shots are in your future.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bad Golf? Blame the Clubs.

I gave my first professional golf advice 30 years ago this past summer. I was an assistant at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge and in charge of club repair. One of our members was considering a change in her golf clubs. She was suffering from arthritis in her hands and hoped the switch to graphite would be beneficial. “It is one thing to play poorly,” she said, “but I don’t want to play bad and hurt too.” I suggested to be better informed I should watch her hit a few balls with her clubs. Her problem was obvious as she basically collapsed at the top of her backswing, the club head dipped, her elbows bent, and she lost her grip on the club. This loss of balance and control made it difficult for her to recover. When I mentioned these observations to her she said emphatically, “Bruce I have heard all that before! I try to stop but I can’t. You sound just like my husband.” I understood clearly that she did not offer that as a compliment and if I didn’t think of something fast my first opportunity to help someone professionally might be my last.

I offered that maybe the swing issues weren’t her fault and that the clubs were too heavy for her to support at the top of the swing and not only would the change to graphite help the pain in her hands but the lighter weight could help her improve her swing as well. I went to the repair shop to see what I could find to help prove my point. The only thing that was lighter were shafts with grips but no club heads. I took the headless golf club back out to the range and told her to swing the shaft for me. She laughed, but did as I asked. The change in her golf swing was incredible. She was balanced perfectly, no hint of collapse of any kind. I instantly knew we had to build her a set of clubs as light as I possibly could. She gave me the ok and I will end this by telling you based on her success, I rebuilt many sets of golf clubs that winter.

Since that time I have never looked at a golf swing without asking myself, “Is the problem the swing or the clubs they are trying to swing?” You would be surprised to know how often the perceived golf swing problem is simply a reaction to the clubs the player uses. So how can find out if it is your swing or the clubs? The red flag for me is if the player has a favorite club. 99 times out of 100 this club will be of a different specification and weight than the other clubs. It is unlikely you would make a good swing with just one club, unless you change your swing to adapt to the poorly fit club.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bad Golf? Blame the Clubs.

I gave my first professional golf advice 30 years ago this past summer. I was an assistant at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge and in charge of club repair. One of our members was considering a change in her golf clubs. She was suffering from arthritis in her hands and hoped the switch to graphite would be beneficial. “It is one thing to play poorly,” she said, “but I don’t want to play bad and hurt too.” I suggested to be better informed I should watch her hit a few balls with her clubs. Her problem was obvious as she basically collapsed at the top of her backswing, the club head dipped, her elbows bent, and she lost her grip on the club. This loss of balance and control made it difficult for her to recover. When I mentioned these observations to her she said emphatically, “Bruce I have heard all that before! I try to stop but I can’t. You sound just like my husband.” I understood clearly that she did not offer that as a compliment and if I didn’t think of something fast my first opportunity to help someone professionally might be my last.

I suggested that maybe the swing issues weren’t her fault. Her clubs were too heavy for her to support at the top of the swing and not only would the change to graphite help the pain in her hands but the lighter weight could help her improve her swing as well. I went to the repair shop to see what I could find to help prove my point. The only thing that was lighter were shafts with grips but no club heads. I took the headless golf club back out to the range and told her to swing the shaft for me. She laughed, but did as I asked. The change in her golf swing was incredible. She was balanced perfectly, no hint of collapse of any kind. I instantly knew we had to build her a set of clubs as light as I possibly could. She gave me the ok and I will end this by telling you based on her success, I rebuilt many sets of golf clubs that winter.

Since that time I have never looked at a golf swing without asking myself, “Is the problem the swing or the clubs they are trying to swing?” You would be surprised to know how often the perceived golf swing problem is simply a reaction to the clubs the player uses. So how can find out if it is your swing or the clubs? The red flag for me is if the player has a favorite club. 99 times out of 100 this club will be of a different specification and weight than the other clubs. It is unlikely you would make a good swing with just one club, unless you change your swing to adapt to the poorly fit club.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Abandon your Comfort Zone for Better Scores.

In our daily quest to help golfers lower their scores, our biggest obstacle at the United States Golf Academy is to get players to leave their comfort zone and make the changes that can help their game. A typical example would be the chronic slicer. The comment from this player will often sound something like, “My drives always slice. I just can’t seem to find a way to stop it.” We will then show them the technique to hit a draw. We then get the predictable comeback of, “This doesn’t feel right!”, even with the desired result of no slice. In thirty years of teaching I have never figured out how to get a swing that produces a right to left ball flight to feel like a swing that produces a left to right ball flight. The two swings are going to feel different. The most important aspect of learning to play better golf is to embrace change rather than fight it. Well struck golf shots are not a matter of luck. They are the result of proper movement when swinging the club. When you find a swing, tempo or balance or combination of all three that works stick with it no matter how “bad” it feels. You will find that with success the “feel” improves rapidly.

Another place where the comfort zone is a hindrance is when it pertains to how a player judges him or herself as a player. Once the label of bad or poor has been applied it is very easy for that player to limit their potential. In every first lesson I always ask, “What kind of scores do you shoot.” When they tell me, I always wonder why they aren’t better. It is a rare occurrence when a golfer is a better player than they look on the range. I am sure the reason is that once you put yourself in a category like 90’s shooter or 100 scorer, you play to that level. No matter what happens, you find a way to get to your comfortable score. I have seen a number of spectacular ways of golfers finding their way back to a level they can handle. Birdie, birdie, quad, triple is an example. I just don’t think there is a physical change from the birdie to the triple bogey. The problem is mental and not physical. When you play a golf hole well and have a good score, without a lucky shot, you have to tell yourself that this is the golf you are capable of playing and most important if you can do it once you can do it again. Never allow yourself to think you are playing over your head, because to be honest you are not. It isn’t luck or fairy dust or the proper alignment of the planets. It was you and you can do it again if you let yourself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Handling your Golf Nerves.

Anyone who ever plays the game eventually finds themselves in a situation when their nerves inhibit their ability to pay their best. Team events, league play, business golf, even playing golf with someone you don’t know can create enough stress to alter your normal game. As you might imagine this becomes a frequent topic of discussion at the United States Golf Academy. Calls for help are often triggered by the situations I just mentioned. Here are three of the ways I suggest as a start to win the battle of the nerves.

Maintain your Balance. One of the best tips I ever heard was from a tour player who told me when the pressure was on he tried to swing the club while maintaining the feel of the ground with his feet. By focusing on his feet and how they felt on the ground, he stayed stable and under control. This stability helped him maintain a proper speed and tempo. How many times has someone told you to slow down? It is really bad advice as the last thing we want is to sacrifice speed because of a lack of balance. By definition a balanced swing leads to proper tempo and that will often solve the problem. If not….

Swing Both Hands Together. Many players find when the pressure is on that their dominant hand over-powers the other. Instead of swinging the club, they try to hit the ball. Without a swing to guide and control the club this hitting action creates a number of problems. The idea of hitting at the ball is difficult because golf clubs are built and work best when they are used with a swinging action. That is why they have flexible shafts. If they were to be used with a hitting action the shafts would be much more rigid. The solution is to make a conscious effort to swing both hands together. You will find this smoothes out the swing giving you improved control over the club.

Swing Past the Ball. When a golfer gets nervous they often become so focused on striking the golf ball they literally stop or slow their swing as the club reaches the ball. Again, the golf clubs are not built to perform this way. Because of the flexibility of the shaft, when the club slows or stops abruptly it becomes unstable and the shaft bends in such a way that solid contact with the ball is difficult. The thought of swinging past the ball keeps the club moving through impact allowing the shaft to do what it was built to do.

The next time you play a round of golf try to implement these three suggestions into your game. Stay grounded, swing both hands together and swing the club past the ball, not at the ball. This has been a successful formula for a number for great players and I am sure you will find it works well for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Different Putting Methods - Productive or Popular?

The golf world has gone a little crazy lately over the recent success of players using an anchored putter. It is the hottest topic of conversation we have had at the Academy in quite some time. The question, “What do you think of the belly putter?” is a tough one to answer directly. Why? A new method is rarely the solution when it comes to better putting. Switching methods starts a chain of events that either works or doesn’t and it takes time and practice to find out.

Over the past 5 years we have measured around 15,000 putting strokes in minute detail. This combined with around 50,000 strokes from a previous data base puts us around 65,000 measured strokes. Here is what we know to be true from the analysis of this data.

The difference between success and failure when choosing a method is not based on the how proficient the method is, but how consistently a method is applied. I can build a robot that can swing a putter in any manner, spins, loops, and otherwise, and as long as it does those things in the same way, I can learn how to use that method to start the ball on a chosen line. So for a human being, if I am not consistent then each stroke becomes a random event with unpredictable results. Not what we are looking for is it?

Because a belly putter it is attached to the body, in order to be consistent you have to attach it at the same place every time. A change in the attachment will change the pattern of motion of the putter. Since it is attached, if I have a perfectly flat surface to stand on, I can use a consistent set up and make a consistent pass at the ball. However, if my body position changes because of an uneven surface, and because the putter attaches to my body, and it is a fixed length and lie, then either the point where it attaches to the body has to change, or the position of the putter relative to the ball will change. Either way something is different. Since ground conditions are inconsistent, the stroke will be as well. So now each putt becomes that random event we just mentioned. What you might gain on flat putts you always give up on breaking putts with an anchored putter. Can you now think why a belly putter has never won a major up until just recently? Big undulating greens are a common condition of major championships.

Doubting your method is part of the game. There is no way to ever know what the best method for you might be. There just isn’t enough time to find out. It is more efficient to look to what you can do with your current technique to become more consistent. With consistency comes predictability and that is what makes a better player.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Avoid a Round Wrecking Score.

There are two types of golfers. The first is steady, consistent, and unspectacular, with every round looking much like the last. The other, is the player who scores higher than their ability, every round ruined by one or two bad holes. The extra strokes come at you so fast when you are finished with the hole you can hardly believe what just happened. I think it is fair to say we see more of the second type player at the United States Golf Academy. Their game has potential but the scores don’t show it and they are looking for a solution. Unfortunately, the big score is more often a function of mental errors rather than physical ones. So what happens?

You might start to take the good shots for granted. You are playing well, made a couple of putts and things are going along smoothly. You relax and think about how much fun this is and all of a sudden you miss a shot and end up in a tough location. Panic sets in and rather than accepting the tough situation and trying to salvage a reasonable score, you try to play hero and try a spectacular shot that will save the hole. Hey, you see the guys and gals do it on TV all the time right? Sure, that is because they never show the player who plays conservatively. It doesn’t make for good television. Play the shot that gets you back in the game, accept the extra stroke and go back to making the good swings.

Some players, after a good start will begin to anticipate an impending big score. As soon as one shot goes off line this player thinks, “Oh boy here it comes,” and that is usually the case. There is an old golf adage that says you can think your way to a bad score much faster than you can think your way to a good score. No truer words were ever spoken. The best way to avoid a situation like this is to not judge the results. No good shot or bad shot, only golf shots. Arnold Palmer’s father was a very wise man who coined the phrase, hit it, find it, and hit it again. While that seems silly it is really the best way to play the game. When you judge a golf shot, it starts the mental process. A bad shot forces you to try and do something about it. A good shot can lead to complacency. What you are looking for is an even keel. No ups or downs. The saying, “What goes up must come down,” can apply to mental attitudes as well as gravity. You have heard it before, it is worth repeating. You have to play one shot at a time. The all count the same and your best days will come when you approach each shot the same.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Anchored Putters – Solution or Fad?

Whenever I think of putters that anchor to your body I think of lemmings. Lemmings are small rodents, some species of which may migrate in large groups when population density becomes too great. Once one lemming decides to move on a bunch will follow. Typically, this includes swimming across a body of water too big to handle. This can be disastrous for leaders and followers alike. Golfers are much like lemmings. With all the recent success of players using belly putters or putters braced against the body during the putting stroke, I have been bombarded by questions recently about their use. Just like lemmings, one player has some success and the rest of us follow no matter how deep the water.

Probably the most famous example was in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus won the Masters using a putter with a head about 4 times the normal size. It was called the Response and I think MacGregor, the company that made the putter, had planned on sales of around 10,000. They ended up selling 500,000 that year. But what worked for Mr. Nicklaus didn’t work so well for everyone else and by the end of the 1986 golf season most of those putters were in storage somewhere taking up space.

This column could go on for pages about what can go wrong using a putter that anchors to your body. The short version of the problem is that when the putter is anchored, the fulcrum of the stroke, or the point your body moves around is in conflict with the forced fulcrum of the stroke by anchoring the end of the putter. In essence the body, in particular the shoulders, are moving around one point, while the putter is trying to swing around another. If you look at Fred Couples stroke you will see a minimal use of the shoulders to counter this problem. Adam Scott does not use his shoulders at all. They both basically swing their hands and arms without any shoulder motion to minimize the conflict between shoulder rotation and putter rotation.

This is not to say that changing to an anchored putter can’t work for you. As long as you understand the proper way to use the club and understand the pros and cons created by making the change. Most of us make the changes without this understanding and it always leads to more problems than solutions. Not only do we make this drastic change and create confusion in our games, when we go back to our original method, we don’t return to the level of proficiency we had when we tried the other technique. We end up worse off than when we started.

So be careful. I don't want anyone to drown like a lemming. If you are going to try a putter that anchors to your body, be sure you have an understanding of how to use it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Late Golf Season Advice

I get a number of calls at the Academy this time of year from players that currently find themselves in a complete state of confusion. My advice to these players is basic and simple. Start at the beginning. The following is a check list that can help you get back on the right track.

Step 1. Check your grip. Put your hands on the golf club and extend the club in front of you. Is the bottom edge of the golf club vertical or is it tilted to the right or the left? If it is tilted, work on your grip until you can make the extension and the club remains vertical. Now at this point I usually hear how a player has done something to his grip to compensate for a directional miss. That is fine, you can always add that feature back in if you need it, but for now let’s see if we can build a swing without it.

Step 2. Without re-gripping the club in any way, set the club down behind the ball and point the face of the club at your target. If from this position your body feels twisted move your feet, not your hands. I repeat, move your feet to balance your posture to the club position. This way you insure proper alignment and ball position. If you twist yourself into alignment, your body will untwist at the start of the motion and ruin your swing.

Step 3. If you have gone through Steps 1 and 2 and feel comfortable over the ball, you can now start your swing. Do you start the same way every time? It is important that you do. For most players there are two ways you can start your swing, either by moving your arms across your chest or by turning your shoulders. Try to use one or the other, moving everything at once does not always work so well.

As we have said many times a consistent golf swing is a choice. In making this choice you have to temporarily live with the results. The good thing is that a consistent set up and start will produce a pretty consistent result. So if the ball is not doing exactly what you want, at least the chances are good the misses will be the same and the solution easier to find. For example if every shot is a slice, you can make adjustments to fix the slice.

As you judge your progress remember this. If you are not hitting the ball solidly in the middle of the face this is normally a balance issue. Focus your attentions there. If you use the system we stated above and you have a directional problem it is a problem with the use of your hands. The ball goes where the face is pointed; so make sure it is pointed in the right direction at impact.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fast Track to Lower Scores

As the season progresses, have you played the quality of golf you had hoped at the season’s start? This is typically the time of year, at the United States Golf Academy, we hear from those who haven’t. I call them the desperation calls. How can I get better fast?

Start with your sand wedge. Hit the first 5 balls, to carry 5 yards in the air. Now hit 5 more twice as far – 10 yards. Then hit 5 more twice as far again or 20 yards. Then hit some 40, then 80, stopping when you get close to the full distance of your wedge. Do not make a full swing with your wedge! This “not quite” full swing is exactly what you need to control every other club in the bag! Now grab your driver. Picture a fairway on the range, go through your complete routine, and try to get the ball in the fairway. Hit 5 drives, using the same routine and set up for each one. Do not change based on one result. After the 5th drive, analyze the results. Did the ball do the same thing for all 5 drives? If not go back and make 5 swings until the results are the same, good or bad. Once the results are consistent, finding a fix is much easier. We can’t permanently fix random results. At this point we have worked on our iron game by using the wedge, improved our full swings by working with the driver and with that we have learned the importance of consistence.

Next take your putter and head for the practice green. Take a very short stroke and see how far the ball rolls. Then take the next ball and with a little longer stroke see how far it goes. Make each stroke progressively longer. Remember no target, just judge the length of the stroke and watch the results. If you get good at this drill you have five balls on a line, each going about 5 feet farther than the previous one. Now go to the opposite side of the green and do the same thing coming back. This drill gives you a better feel for the mechanics of creating distance. Finally take the five golf balls and put them in a circle five feet from one of the cups on the green. Try to make all 5 putts. If you are very good see how many you can make in a row. Finally take the five balls and throw them scattered around the green. Try to get each of the five balls up and down in two strokes without any “do overs” or mulligan’s.
In the end you have worked on everything you will need to play better. Improved wedge play, better control and tempo for your irons, more fairways and better overall swing mechanics by working with the driver and lower scores because of your focus on the short game.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Simple Advice for more Driver Distance

“Everyone is looking for more distance off the tee.” Well, maybe not everybody, but it is a request we get every day at the United States Golf Academy. It isn’t hard to find advice on hitting the ball farther. Every golf publication knows if they put a tip for longer drives on the cover they will sell more magazines. For those who are more digitally literate, it is a very popular search phrase on the internet. When you read or hear this advice it is almost always about making swing changes to find more club head speed. Lift weights; work out, more leverage, bigger shoulder turn, and on and on. This is all good advice, but only for the player who has time to practice and take the time necessary to make the swing changes required. This is a topic for another day, but one of the reasons a player might struggle is that they are in a state of constant change. So what can you do, with what you have, to increase your distance?

First, you can’t make up for a mishit with club speed. Doesn’t matter how “forgiving” a golf club is marketed to be. So focus on hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the golf club rather than trying to swing the club faster. You can find the sweet spot by holding the shaft with two fingers and letting the club hang. Then tap the face with a finger tip. Move around the face and you will feel the club try to twist in your fingers, except for one point on the face. This is where you want to hit the ball. Mark that spot with a dry erase marker and try to hit the ball with that spot. Two good things will happen. The ball will go straighter because it is hard to hit the sweet spot of the club with anything but a square clubface. More important to this conversation, this is the location on the face where the ball leaves the club the fastest. The faster the ball comes off the club the farther it flies. How fast the ball is moving is more important than how fast the club moves.

Second, so many players, in anticipation of the collision with the golf ball, actually slow the swing as they move into the hitting area. This anticipation and slowing at impact is a very common problem. You even see it on the tour once in awhile. The thought I always try to give my students is to swing the club past the ball, not too the ball. Try very hard to have the fastest portion of your swing beyond impact. Another way to insure you are swinging through the ball is to hold your follow through. Pose like someone is taking your picture.

Try these two simple suggestions and see if you don’t add some yards to your drives.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Club Fitting Advice

We take great pride at the United States Golf Academy in our ability to fit the correct golf equipment to our students and customers. We believe having the right equipment to be an integral part of a student’s success. Not only should every club have the correct dimensions and shaft option, but equally as important is finding the right set configuration. Each time a student steps up to a shot, they have the right tool for the task.

Analyze each club in your set. Is each club performing to expectations? One hundred years ago your clubs were built for you one at a time. You purchased a driver, a long fairway club, middle fairway club, short fairway club, specialty clubs for rough or sand, and specific clubs for around the green. I believe this is still the best way to accumulate a set of clubs. More and more we see the industry moving back to the original concept of one club at a time.

As you analyze your clubs you can’t assume that a “set” of clubs will give you the equipment you need for your distance requirements. Try this process. First, find a driver that gives you the best results. Then find a putter that fits you. These are the two most important clubs in terms of scoring with the putter being the most overlooked when it comes to fitting. This is a huge mistake, as getting a putter that fits you and your particular stroke will reap the greatest rewards. Next, find a fairway club that gives you the best combination of distance and trajectory. This is not necessarily a 3 wood. This will be some combination of loft and length that gives you the most possible distance from a shot struck of the turf. For example we fit many 17 degree golf clubs at 42.5 inches in length as the “3 wood”. Not traditional specifications, but the best results. Now move to the shortest distance and chose the wedge loft that best suits your needs around the green. This will be a club with between 54 and 64 degrees. Then compare the distance between the shortest club and your long fairway club. What is the distance you hit each of these clubs? Let’s say the best fairway club you can find is 200 yards and the wedge you chose goes 68. Since you have chosen a driver, fairway club, wedge and a putter you have ten available clubs to cover the gap of 132 yards. A reasonable gap between clubs is about 12 yards. So we find a club for each yardage. With the advent of hybrids and super game improvement clubs the options are countless.

Building a “set” of club clubs in this manner has two great has two great advantages. First, it makes you a better player with a better understanding of your equipment. Second, it is a lot of fun to build your personal set.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Golf Ball Fitting

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Golf Club Fitting

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Special Green Fee Offer

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Overnight Special

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Golf Equipment Offer

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Golf's Three Rules for Success

We spend a lot of time talking about what it takes to be a
better golfer. We talk about creating a routine, finding a technique that works
for you, rhythm and timing? all of these are important in your goal for lower
scores. But no matter what your skill level, there are some rules about playing
this game that apply to everyone. I call them the Three Rules for Success and
whether you are a beginner or the best player in the world, they are things we
have to remember and work on every time we are on the golf course.

Rule #1. You Can't Play Mad. Anger destroys golf scores. I
define golf course anger as the inability to accept the results of your
efforts. How many times have you seen a player hit a poor shot into a lake, get
mad and turn right around and hit the next shot worse than the previous one? Or
it can be more subtle than that, you pull a drive slightly to the left and then
hit the next shot right of your target, trying to fix the mistake of the
previous shot. Or hit a putt too far only to leave the next putt short. All of
these are examples of not accepting the results of your effort.  Regardless of how disappointed you are in a
golf shot, you have to remember that the next one counts and your efforts
should be focused on playing that shot. Curtis Strange, two times US Open
Champion, was famous for his temper on the golf course. His advice was, "You
can get as mad as you like on the walk from the green to the next tee. By the
time you get to the tee you had better be over it."

Rule #2. You Can't Play Afraid. You have to play the game
assuming the shot will come off as planned. Swinging harder to make sure the
ball gets over the water, hitting a putt short because you are afraid to hit
the putt past the hole are both are good examples of playing afraid. You have
to play the shot with confidence and not be afraid of the outcome. You
certainly can't get mad at a shot you were afraid of missing in the first
place. If you get to that point you start to infringe on Rule #3.

Rule #3. You Can't Quit. When it gets so bad you want to
throw your clubs in the lake, keep playing. You never know what might happen.
You might learn something about your swing. You might make your lowest score
ever on a certain hole. You might get the satisfaction of turning a terrible
round into a respectable one. I have always felt you can learn a lot if you can
hit some really bad shots and really good shots in the same round. A comparison
of the results will teach you something.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nike Ball Fitting

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Finding a Consistent Golf Swing.

A common request of the instructors at the United States Golf Academy is for some consistency in our customer's golf games. Most of our students, as well as those of you we haven't met, can hit good golf shots. I know this to be true,because if you haven't, you would have quit playing by now. But why are those good shots are so infrequent?

First, you have to understand that consistency is a matter of choice and not talent. You
have to choose to do the same things every time you strike a golf shot. Approach each shot the same way. Pre-shot decisions, set up, how you swing the club back, how far you swing the club back and the speed with which you swing the club are all things that you can decide to control. No one ever missed a golf shot because they did things the same way for every shot. They miss the shot because they DID NOT do the same things in the same way. 

Choosing a routine, starting the swing in the same manner, using the same length of swing
each time, and swinging the club with the same rhythm and timing, is not easy to do. It will not guarantee perfect results. Sorry, it isn't that easy. What it will do for your game is give you a frame of reference to make the correct changes. One of my favorite sayings is that you cannot judge random. Golf requires us to predict the results of our efforts. If I have 100 yards to the hole and you make a swing, with a certain club, will the ball go the required distance? If you make a random swing at the ball, each time a little different from the time before, can you predict the outcome of the swing? Not likely and even if you do perform well what was different from those times you missed.

So how can we become more consistent? Create a check list. Start with choosing a target and a club. Then position yourself for the shot. How do you start the swing? How far can I swing the club into my backswing before I lose my balance? How
fast can I go before I lose control of the club? Answer these questions and
then regardless of the results of the previous shot, do it again. Keep doing it until the round is over. Then and only then judge the results of the day. What you will find is with consistency comes a sense of knowledge. You will have a much better grasp of what to try and fix. Certain types of misses come from different aspects of the swing. Club control influences direction, alignment, spin, balance, solid contact. What you will also find is with consistent swings, come consistent misses. The consistent miss is always easier to fix than the random ones.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rhythm and Timing -The Forgotten Golf Swing Fundamentals.

One of the most overlooked criteria for swinging a golf club is simply how much time it takes to swing a club. Consistent golf swings happen in a consistent amount of time. If your swing is inconsistent it is a sure bet the timing is inconsistent as well.

To start, don’t confuse timing with sequence. How your body moves and the sequence of the motion are very important but there is more to it than that. The sequence must be performed in a specific amount of time. For example, we know from our putting study, that a putting stroke takes an average of one second, from start to impact and a small fraction over one second to finish. This is the timing or your stroke. The rhythm of the swing is determined by how the player uses the time. We qualify strokes as two beat and three beat strokes. Two beat strokes have a similar amount of time on the back swing and the follow through. Back-Through, is a good description. Three beat strokes have a little pause at the end of the back swing. Back and…Through is a better description of a three beat rhythm. Regardless of rhythm, the time is the same for longer putts as well as shorter putts. The length of the stroke changes and with that change the speed the putter moves changes, but always within the same time frame and rhythm.

The same is true for full swings. Short or long successful swings are performed in the same amount of time. For example a good player will swing a 9 iron in the same amount of time as he does a driver. The difference of the two is the speed at which he moves and the distance traveled. A total full swing takes about 2 seconds to finish with impact less at around 1.5 seconds. You see the same rhythms in full swings as you see in putting. Some swings like Ben Hogan’s were always in motion. Club goes back and the club comes through. This was created by the sequence of his swing motion. The other rhythm using a pause at the top can be found in a swing from one of Hogan’s contemporaries, Byron Nelson. Byron had a pause at the top of his swing as the swing changed direction.

The moral of the story is that for any player, thinking of your golf swing in terms of time and rhythm can help you consistently control the golf club and make you a better player. Some players and teachers use an aid like a metronome. I like to just count. Count one thousand one from start to impact for a putt, as I am less concerned about my follow through when putting. Try a count of one thousand one, one thousand two, to the end of my follow through on a full swing and see if it makes a difference.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Putter Fitting Special

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Use your Knees for a Better Swing

I analyze a lot of golf swings on video. They range from the all time greats to good, average and strugglers. There are obvious differences in the swings, but one there is one common difference between the good and the bad. The great swings have a more active knee action during the swing than the poor ones.

The knees are the shock absorbers of the golf swing. Great swings maintain, and in many cases, increase the amount of knee flex during the golf swing. The strugglers lose the flex in the knees or it changes constantly during the swing. Because the knees are the shock absorbers, when the flex is lost it creates a situation where your body is off balance. Now you are in conflict. So as you continue to swing the golf club, your body is trying to keep you from falling down at the same time. These are rarely compatible motions.

When the knees are flexed your weight easily moves with the golf club. So many of us straighten the back leg as the club starts back, forcing your weight to the front foot. Now with all your weight forward, as the club comes back to the ball, you have nowhere to go but in the reverse direction. Hence the term reverse weight shift. All caused by an improper change in your knee flex.

Fat and thin shots are certainly a result of poor knee action. Miss-hit shots are almost always caused by a balance issue in the swing. A good rule of thumb is to remember that direction problems are caused by hands and club face rotation, and the inability to hit the ball in the middle of the face is a balance issue. For example, when the club drives into the ground behind the ball, or in golf terms you hit it fat, it often happens because of a lack of body rotation to help keep the golf club moving forward as the arms swing down. The body will quit turning when the legs straighten.

I have always been an advocate for more knee flex rather than less. I guess it is because the golf swings I admired most maintained their knee flex later through the swing, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino being perfect examples. There is a school thought that tries to straighten the front leg at impact for more club speed, but the jury is still out on that move. Accuracy definitely becomes an issue.

As a test, exaggerate your knee flex, and make some swings. More knee flex does not mean to lean back, maintain your spine angle forward toward the ball and bend your knees. Now swing the club and maintain the flex through the swing. Try this for awhile and see if you balance and ball striking improve. It might be just the thing you have been looking for to help improve your game.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Controlling the Curve for Better Scores

A famous golfer once said, “It is a rare occurrence when the ball doesn’t curve in flight. Good golfers use the curve. Poor golfers fight it.” When I use this quote with my students at the United States Golf Academy, they often get very frustrated, often commenting, “It is the curve on the ball that gets me into trouble!” Ok I agree, excessive curve on the ball can be hard to control, but is not the curve that causes the problem but whether the ball curves toward the target or away. My goal is to always make my students better players, so we always learn to embrace the fact the ball has a tendency to curve in flight and use it to our advantage rather than have the constant battle of fighting it.

The first step in controlling a curved ball flight is to indentify your natural ball flight tendencies. Not what the ball does when you try to steer it to a target, but the curve your natural swing produces. To find this simply go to the practice range and hit balls without any target. Just set up and swing without even looking down range. Swing without any sense of direction. The first thing you will notice is that the ball does not curve as much as it does on the golf course. Why? You are swinging the club where you body is set up and not to a point where you think the target is located. The only time the ball spins and curves excessively is when our setup is in a different direction than our target. So when we swing at the target, our setup pulls the club in a different direction, causing a glancing blow and a big curve. Once you have identified the curve, use the following technique to use it the curve to effectively get the ball to go toward the target.

Stand behind the ball and select the point where you would like the ball to end up. Now build an imaginary wall from that point straight back to the ball. Next using your tendency and predictable curve, align yourself so that your swing starts the ball on the side of the wall that allows the ball to curve back to the wall, for left to right players this means starting left of the wall and for right to left players starting right of the wall. Now step up and with no sense of the final target, swing the club with the sole intent of starting the ball on “your” side of the wall. After a few trials you will find the ball curves less as our swing matches our alignment, and you will hit more fairways by staying on your side of the wall. Give this a try. It is a concept that has served many good players very well.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Set Up and Alignment Issues

The longest conversations I have with the customers of the United States Golf Academy are always about set up and alignment. There is a real lack of understanding out there about how these fundamentals influence your golf swing and the quality of the shots your swing will produce. So this week I thought I would take on one of the myths of proper alignment.

Myth. The appropriate ball position is determined by the relationship of the ball to the feet.

Truth. You don’t hit the ball with your feet! It is better to use the parts of your body that move the club as a reference to determine where the ball should be positioned. The priority for a good setup is to position the body in such a way so is in the proper position at the appropriate time during your swing. How that ball position appears when compared to our feet is much less important than matching it with the moving parts like arms, hands and shoulders that actually position the club for the blow. I can move my feet to adjust the ball position. But if I move my feet am I still aligned in the proper direction? Since the relationship of club to ball is most important then it might be easier to use hands, arms and shoulders as the reference.

The better way to learn the proper ball position is to memorize the relationship of your arms to your torso. Then maintaining this position, place the club behind the ball with the face of the club pointed toward the target. By putting both hands on the club first, if you need to change the direction the club is pointed, the body automatically moves to adjust to the new hand position. This will insure a consistent alignment relative to the club face. Since I use the parts of the body that will swing the club as a reference to position the ball, I have a better chance of a proper ball position. The feet will go where they should to balance the body.

So how do you memorize the arm, hand, body relationship? Without using a ball, set the club on the ground, put your hands on the club, and then take your stance. Do it in this order! Now without moving the club or your arms or hands, stand up. Now put a ball on the ground. Again without moving the club, ground, bend over. Move your feet and walk yourself into the proper position as if you were a robot and positioning it to a golf ball. The relationship of ball to hands, arms and shoulders does not change, but the feet move the entire mechanism-your body -into position to strike the ball. This procedure when practiced becomes seamless and will greatly increase your consistency and ball striking ability. This new found consistency is sure to lower your scores.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Answers for a Better Golf Game

If I ever get around to writing an instruction book, it won’t be in segments of specific technique about drivers, short game, or even putting. It will consist of 4 chapters, asking 4 questions, with advice on how to answer the questions. The four questions address every aspect of the game and the answers hold the solutions to every situation, from full swing to short game, even putting. So here are the “magic 4” and a head start finding some answers to improve your golf game.

Chapter 1.
What does the player do with the clubface on the backswing that has to be undone on the forward swing? All of the information that determines where the ball will go is provided by the movement of the clubface and direction the face is pointed at impact. So to control the golf ball you have to control the clubface.

Chapter 2.
How far can you take the club back on the backswing before you lose your balance? When your body is in motion it is constantly seeking a position of balance. It is what keeps us from falling down. If you are off balance there is nothing you can do to stop your body from finding “on balance”. These adjustments can wreck your golf swing. The off balance issues are always a function of the backswing. For example, too long a backswing is the most common problem we see.

Chapter 3.
How much effort can you use to swing the club before you lose control? This is the rhythm and tempo chapter and is much more important than most players realize. You are probably thinking that this is where I tell you to slow down. Not necessarily, we want all the speed we can get, but at the right time and place. Most of us are too fast, too soon.

Chapter 4.
What is the sequence of motion for your golf swing and from what position does sequence begin? In other words, what moves first, what moves second, and where did the sequence start? Where are we at the end of the backswing, how do we change direction and what body part finishes the swing? A bad sequence or a good sequence from a bad position is by definition a bad golf swing. Answer this question and the riddle of how to swing a golf club is solved.

So I know what you are thinking. What are the answers? The questions are easy. The solutions can be difficult to find, because they are different for each of us. The reason I haven’t written the book is that while there are only 4 Chapters, there is probably 1000 pages of advice on how to solve each chapter. But as you ask the questions the answer to one leads to the solution for the next and in the end you have a golf swing that works for you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Putting Fundamentals

A putt goes into the hole when two requirements have been achieved. First, the ball is traveling in the correct direction. Second, it is moving at the proper speed. No matter what you hear or read from the industry marketing people, speed and direction are the only two things that matter. So when you create your own putting strategy you must focus on what matters, Direction and Distance, and the factors at impact that influence them.

So the question then becomes what to master first, Distance or Direction? There are a number of myths and legends about how the ball comes off the putter. Golfer's have a tendency to romanticize putting, when it simply is a collision of a moving object with a stationary one. Since the ball is on the face for such a limited time there isn’t much that happens. 82% of the influence on direction comes from where the face is pointed at impact. The remaining 18% is from the direction of the path. So controlling the face relative to the path direction is how we start the ball on line. The speed the ball leaves the putter is influenced by how fast the putter is moving, but also the loft on the putter at impact as well.

Since the face has an influence on both parameters of the stroke it is important and more efficient to address the two issues in this order, direction first, and then speed. Why? Because how fast the putter is moving has no influence on direction the ball leaves the putter. However, how the face is delivered to the ball not only controls direction, but also has a large influence on how fast the ball leaves the putter. Our putting study has shown clearly that with a putter moving at the same exact speed, how far the ball rolls will vary, depending on the loft of the putter face at impact. There are a number of things that can happen to a stroke that influence loft, but in the end if we find a stroke that can consistently start the ball on line first, then we can also assume that the ball will roll a consistent distance based on speed, because all of the other factors influencing speed are controlled by those factors controlling direction. So the moral of this story is to find a consistent stroke that starts the ball on the intended line and then work on the only variable left which is repeating that motion at different speeds.

You can learn to do this by hitting putts over a mark about 6 inches in front of your golf ball. That teaches direction. Now do it with different stroke lengths. This creates the speed. Then take it to the golf course and see if you can relate stroke length to putt length, with the stroke we learned can control direction. I know you will begin to see some improvement in your putting.

Monday, June 6, 2011


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Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Plan to Play Better Golf

I spend most of my days helping golfers analyze their golf swings. We think it is very important to understand the mechanics of your swing to get better. Our Director of Golf says it best, “Hope is not a strategy.” Once you understand your swing, the goal for every player is very simple. We want build a motion we can repeat, so we can predict the results. So step one in any plan is to find a repeatable motion, do the same things every time we attempt to strike a golf ball, and from that we will see more consistent results, maybe not perfect, but more consistent. I have said it many times before, “You can’t fix random.” So regardless of the results, in order to get better, we have to do the same things, along the same timeline, for every shot we hit. It takes routine to become consistent and consistency is the goal.

While you are on this journey of discovery to find a repeatable swing, the last thing we want to happen is that you get so focused on your swing you forget to play golf. How else will we know if we are improving? For each shot, make the necessary decisions, go through your routine to prepare to swing, make the swing, find the ball, repeat. Don’t judge it, just play. No one has ever played a perfect round, and the first one is not likely to come from you or me, so we will just have to deal with our mistakes along the way. This leads us to the next portion of our plan.

When you play a golf hole have a strategy in place on how to play the hole. Ask yourself, “What is the best way for me to play this hole? Where is the best place for my tee shot and how would I progress from there?” Once the plan is in place, make the first swing and go find the ball. Now we make a decision, from this point on the golf course is my original plan intact or do I need to create a new plan for a different score? If the shot was acceptable proceed. If not what you planned, start over. Create a new plan, again with the thought of what is the best way for me to play the hole from my current location. Create a plan to achieve that and proceed. Continue the process until you finish. This strategy forces you to play golf instead of play swing. Now go back to the first paragraph. Doing consistent things with a plan, allows us to use our tendencies to our advantage rather than fight them. Example, if my consistent shot pattern is a slice. I can plan how to use the slice, rather than try to play an unexpected result. Predictable results no matter how they look, will always result in lower scores.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lesson 94-107

Lesson 94-Playing strategy. Don't let greed waste shots. Find a target within your range. Pin seeking=higher stress=potential missed shot.
Lesson 95-Short Game-Touch and feel beats perfect technique everytime! Short shots are all about clubface control and how you create speed.
Lesson 96-Trying to get better does not mean starting over. No best method! The ball doesn't care. Tweak don't overhaul is a good guideline.
Lesson 97-Patience-The most valuable personal trait for a golfer is patience. Golf is progressive-One shot leads to the next. Play them all.
Lesson 98-Patience-Patience is using your routine for every shot. Patience means not judging until the end. Patience is one shot at a time.
Lesson 99-Patience-Create a plan. Bad shot? Start new plan. I.E. Reachable par 5-easy 4. Bad tee shot? Don't make 6 trying to save the plan.
Lesson 100-Patience- Try not to anticipate a score. Easy holes can be difficult, difficult holes can be easy. One great shot can change all.
Lesson 101-Golf is a dance and not a wrestling match. Staying in rhythm while so many things are trying to take you out is a key to success.
Lesson 102- Feel-Feel is the ability to know where the club is at all points of your swing without having to look at it. Feel can be taught.
Lesson 103-Feel can be taught. Focus on the gloved hand! How far did it move and how fast was it moving? How far did the ball fly and roll?
Lesson 104-Developing feel. Focus on the top hand. Match the club to the thumb. The thumb controls the rotation of the club. Let it rotate.
Lesson 105-Feel-Make practice swings of different lengths. very slow at first, with your eyes closed. Use your hands to judge club location.
Lesson 106-Rhythm and Tempo are feel factors. How fast can you swing the club and still feel the location of the club in your hands?
Lesson 107-We all know what a good swing looks like, but can we remember what a good swing feels like? Don't let vision interfere with feel.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Arnie or Jack?

As a former employee of Arnold Palmer, the topic of golf conversation was frequently about Mr. Palmer and his greatest rival, Jack Nicklaus. What made them both so great? What were the differences between the two, not only their golf swings, but their approach to the game, and which was better? I have found that using these comparisons has helped our students at the United States Golf Academy have a deeper understanding of their own golf games. This understanding becomes a key factor in getting better. Here are some examples.

Approach to the Game.
Mr. Palmer was a “hit the ball directly at the target guy.” Nicklaus was a probability guy. Jack used his natural fade to play from a big target, like the center of the green, to a smaller one, the flag. His reasoning was if the ball didn’t curve he would not be in trouble. Mr. Palmer on the other hand never planned for a missed shot. He just made the target as small as possible and then hit the ball right at it.

Swing Mechanics
Mr. Palmer swung the golf club on a flatter plane, using his arms to lead the body on the backswing, and then reversing this motion by leading with hips and knees on the downswing while the arms followed. This technique produced a lower more boring ball flight. The most direct route to the target. Aggressive

Nicklaus was the opposite. Using his shoulders and core to start and then lifting the club in a upright plane to finish the backswing. He then started the club back to the ball by swinging the arms forward while the rest of his body reacted to the arm swing. Arms lead-body follows is how we describe it at the Academy. This produces a higher ball flight, a trajectory that aids in controlling the golf ball. It stays where it lands and reduces the chance for error.

Short Game
Both had similar strategies and techniques for their short games. Mr. Palmer used a lower more direct approach to short shots, while Jack hit the ball higher and more softly on shots around the green. Both styles matched their full swing techniques.

What was common to both was that strategy and personality lead to what swing mechanics to use, which dictates their strategy for all parts of their game. In comparison the everyday golfer tries to do too much. We ask the question, “What is the perfect technique for each segment of the game?” rather than, “How does my technique work in each segment of the game?” Each of our heroes decided early on they would play “their” way. They made a decision.

Go back to the strategy section and ask yourself, “Are you more like Arnie or Jack?” Then examine your golf game to see if technique matches your personality. It might just clear the cobwebs and make the game a little easier.

Monday, May 23, 2011