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.