Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Club Fitting-Two Perspectives

Arnold Palmer is one of the great golf club tinkerers of all time. He fervently believes that a perfect set of clubs exists and with that set, a perfect game is possible. As someone who watched him hit many golf balls, with many different clubs, I am in no position to argue. As I watched him, it was very clear the golf clubs had as much influence over the ball flight as his swing. One driver would be very hard to hook and then the next would be impossible to fade. Changing the lie angle on a set of irons even by as little as one degree would change the trajectory and curve of the ball in flight. He was doing this with a low tech set of clubs compared with what is available today.

However controversial this may seem, with the technology available today, equipment can have more influence on the ball than the golf swing a player uses. I can fit a club that gives you more distance with the same swing and a club that reduces spin so the ball curves less. We can buy clubs that launch the ball higher or lower, all with the player using the same technique creating the same swing speed. I can even influence your putting stroke and change how the ball comes off a putter! Technology is a great thing for the consumer because it increases your purchase options, but it does not guarantee improvement, just change.

There are two directions you can go when fitting golf clubs.

1. You can use technology to fit your golf equipment as a way to correct a problem.

2. You can fit your equipment to maximize your ability.

At this point, I often get the blank stare and the question, “what is the difference?” Fitting to correct is limiting at best. Take for example a draw-biased driver; it helps eliminate your slice but always at the cost of distance. If you make a swing that slices the ball, the club corrects the spin, but because it is essentially a glancing blow, you get slower ball speeds coming off the club and less distance. If you make your best, fastest and most efficient swing, the ball does what it is supposed to do and hooks because of the bias built into the club. It flies so far left you never want to use that swing again. Imagine waiting your whole life for that one moment of golf swing perfection only to bounce the ball off a condominium to the left of the fairway.The other problem with golf clubs that correct ball flight or “assist” your putting, is that you lose the feedback required to know if you made a good swing or not. Success in golf starts with hitting the ball with the center of the club. If you cannot feel that at impact, and the results are acceptable, you never look to improve. With clubs fit to correct, you get what you settle for but no more. In fact clubs built to correct a problem, literally train you to make the ineffcient swing.

In order to be the best player you can be you need clubs that match your best posture, with shafts that fit your swing type so that the best results come from the best swing. Do you swing the club or hit the ball? How much feedback are you willing to sacrifice? Most important, be sure to ask yourself the most important question. Are you as bad as you think you are, or do you not play to your potential? Do not let your clubs be part of the problem.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Better Putting

In 2005 I was introduced to a technology called PuttLab. It is an ultrasound device invented by Dr. Christian Marquardt of Germany, that when attached to a putter measures in minute detail all of the pertinent motions of the putter. I was fortunate enough to be part of the team that introduced the technology to the United States, and my association with the company continues to this day. Over the past 6 years I have analyzed in excess of 50,000 measurements. Actually, I quit counting at 50,000 and I have saved and documented every stroke. This observation and research has led me to some conclusions that don’t agree with many of the commonly held beliefs on putting that are published and broadcast every day.

Our first observation from the research was a discovery that should have been obvious from the start. There was no magic method available only to the very best. The averages of the mechanical measurements of the putting strokes of the poorest putters were no different than the averages of the professional data set. Neither was perfect in comparison to many of the rules and concepts commonly offered. Straight, square, online, are examples of terms that we use to market a method or technique, but in reality are mythical goals. Players have tendencies and biases that are the same for the best or the worst. What was different was consistency. THE GREATEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WORST AND THE BEST WAS NOT HOW THEY DID IT, BUT THAT THE BEST DID IT THE SAME WAY EVERYTIME. The best used their tendencies to create a method, while it appears that the poor performers fight their tendencies to achieve a goal. They try something new every time something doesn’t work. A Hall of Fame player once told me he attributed his success to the fact that he never wasted much time looking for a perfect method. He spent all of his time trying to perfect his own. One needs to look no farther than the greats of the game to understand the value of that statement, particularly as it relates to putting styles. Every great player had a style, posture, and technique that was entirely their own.

In order to create a successful strategy and matching technique for putting, you must understand that you are a unique entity. None of us process information in the same manner. We don’t see things the same, nor are we are constructed in the same dimensions. We all have individual preferences, limits and strengths. To attempt to change from what we are, and what we do, for the sake of a forced method described on television or through the media that was developed without any prior knowledge of you as an individual, is more often troubling than helpful. The best approach to creating a successful putting strategy is one that accepts we are all different and has a plan to identify and use those differences as an advantage. It is messy and sometimes complicated, but well worth the effort.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Guide to Understanding your Golf Swing

I look at golf swings every day, all of them a little different. I also get requests every day to explain the issues people have with their golf swings. Whether I interact in person or online, I will never feel what it is like to swing the club like those I analyze. I watched Arnold Palmer swing a golf club thousands of times, and though I felt I was as familiar with that swing as my own, I would never know how it felt to swing the club as he did. The best I could do is to understand how my interpretation of his golf swing felt to me. He and I found that was not a very efficient way to communicate. So as an instructor I had to find a way of understanding his swing and communicating my thoughts to them so we were both in agreement.

I found this to be a tough task until I was introduced to the idea of verbalizing a golf swing. Originally, the application of the theory was if I could verbalize the movements of my swing in the proper sequence I could use that “check list” as a way to work through any issues I might be having. As time went along I found if I could verbalize the proper sequence of my students and we both used the same words I could easily see where they had gotten off track with a conversation we both understood. The idea of verbalizing the swing has now grown to the point that I work with the majority of my students online. It has proven to be a much more efficient and productive use of time for both myself and the client.

Step One in this process is to find a way to start. Historically, there have been three types of swings. One is where the arms swing around the body in conjunction with the rotation of the torso. This swing was called flat. Mr. Palmer and Ben Hogan are good examples of this move. There were the upright swings, where the shoulders turned as the arms lifted the club into position. Jack Nicklaus, the late Payne Stewart, and many famous LPGA players like Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster use this method. Finally, there are those who split the difference, arm on top of the shoulder is the way I describe these players. Tiger Woods of 2000, Adam Scott and Greg Norman have had a great influence on this method.

The following diagram shows the three arm positions at the top of the swing.

So which one are you? Each of these methods has a sequence of motion that puts the clubin the position they find at the top of the swing. The player on the left starts with his arms, and his shoulders follow the club to the top. The player on the right starts with his shoulders, and then lifts his arms into position. The player in the middle uses a combination of shoulders turning and as the arms swing back. How you get to this position is important, and pretty much a preference and matter of comfort. It is not as important as this:

The sequence of motion that gets you back to the ball for impact is dictated by the position of the arm at the top of the swing. The sequences are different, not the same and

So as you read this winter and the authors are sharing their idea of the best swing. Be very aware if the description of their method matches the description of yours. You can save yourself a lot of issues come spring if you stay with your method.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Monday's with Arnie

Mondays were “practice day” for Arnold Palmer at the Latrobe Country Club. The ritual was the same every Monday. I would get a call at my office in the pro shop. “Bruce, what’s going on today?” “Not much.” That was always my response as the clubhouse was closed on Mondays. “Do you have time to watch me hit a few balls?” I was out the door before the line disconnected. For the better part of 12 years I spent almost every Monday, during the summer, watching Mr. Palmer prepare for his next tournament.

Our practice sessions always began at his workshop, selecting the clubs that would make the trip to the practice range. This was more difficult than you might think. At the time, there were over 10,000 individual clubs in his workshop to choose from and new ones arriving every day. I know the number is correct because I counted them. Once a decision was made I would load two full bags on my cart, two on his and off we went to the range. If you know golf carts and can do a little math, you know that my clubs rarely made an appearance at the Monday session. No room on the carts. He always began with wedges and progressively worked its way to the driver. He finished up on the golf course, where after a sprint to the clubhouse to get my clubs, I would join him to play 9 or 10 holes.

Even without a warm up I always played well on Monday afternoons and I now know why. After watching a legend hit great shots all day, it rubs off on you. Not the characteristics of his swing, but the rhythm of hitting good shots. As I continue my own search for a better golf game and have studied every technical aspect of striking a golf ball, I can assure you that timing and rhythm are the most important aspects of a good swing, short game and putting stroke. Years later I met Dr. Christian Marquardt, the inventor of PuttLab. When I asked the most important parameter measured on PuttLab, Dr. Marquardt replied, “Clearly it is rhythm and timing.” I immediately flashed back to my practice days with Mr. Palmer.

Understanding the mechanics of your swing is pretty simple. The hard part is putting the mechanics in motion. This is where the sequence of the movement has to be addressed. A swing that moves in the proper sequence is a swing performed in the proper rhythm. Mr. Palmer always swung the club in the following sequence. Left arm back while the right hip clears, turn the shoulders to carry the club to the top of the backswing. The downswing starts with a knee shift towards the target and the hands follow the knees to the ball. The timing of the sequence changed as the speed of the swing changed. For example as he got older he had to wait a little longer for his legs to clear. The timing on his short wedge shots was different than the timing of his driver swing. With the exception of his putting stroke, he used this sequence for every other shot.

I would suggest that all of us could learn as I did from Mr. Palmer. We each have to discover the appropriate sequence of motion for our swing. All of the greats had a sequence that was unique to them and once they understood it they stuck with it. Winter is a great time to work on this. Swing the club in very slow motion, analyzing what part of the body is moving and when. You will feel when the swing is out of sync as you will have a stuck feeling in the motion. As always if you need any help send me an email. I’ll be glad to walk you through it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Limited offering to join Burnt Edges Consulting

2011 marks my 33rd year as a Golf Professional. I started as a teacher’s assistant for Chick Harbert at the Ocean Reef Club in the fall of 1978. I played professionally on and off for three seasons, until I was hired at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club, in 1981. I worked for Mr. Palmer for 17 years, the first 6 at Bay Hill, and then for 11 years as the Head Golf Professional at the Latrobe Country Club. In my time working for Mr. Palmer I was introduced and had access to some of the very best players in the world. Mr. Palmer, Dow Finsterwald, Payne Stewart, Greg Norman, and Scott Hoch, are just the player we worked with every day. Thanks to Mr. Palmer the list of those we had access to from time to time is as extensive as you might imagine. One constant of those days was a search for answers as to how they became so skilled. What was different about these great players from the hundreds I met that didn’t quite make it?

The second part of my career was a quest to find an answer to that question. I worked very hard and for the right people to become as familiar with the latest golf diagnostic technology. Two in particular stand out, Science and Motion Puttlab for Putting and the Trackman Ball Flight monitoring system for full shots. These were, and continue to be, the most accurate systems available. I have spent everyday of the past 10 years using this equipment and documenting the results. In short, this technology has provided the answers to the questions of my early career. I now have a better sense of why some were success and some not.

As a reader of the blog you might be familiar of my research and findings concerning the putting stroke, putter fitting and the benefits of connecting the two. Burnt Edges Consulting is my initial offering to share these discoveries. As a client of Burnt Edges Consulting you have unlimited access to all the information. We will literally write an instruction manual based specifically on applying our findings to you. Many of my professional colleagues have signed on to use the information and system to improve their own instruction techniques.

A fee of $175.00 is paid as an annual retainer. This gives you unlimited access one on one. I am in contact with my clients on almost a daily basis. I have also expanded the offer to blog readers to include anything related to golf and your swing. Online video evaluation, theoretical discussions, equipment fitting and recommendations, whatever your needs are, you will have access to the best information available, either through myself or my contacts.

Thanks for considering my offer. As you can imagine availability is limited. If you have an interest, please respond to barusga@gmail.com and I can sedn you some additional information. I have references available and glad to answer any questions you might have.