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.

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