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.