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.