This is Jeff, holding the flagstick. In April, new to the game of golf, he came to Savage Creek looking for an instructor. Because he wanted to practice his English Jeff decided to have his lessons with me.
Mike Bender coaches Zach Johnson and many other professional and collegiate players. He has many simple explanations for the swing that I wish I had known a long time ago. I teach in a similar way: we must get the clubhead to the ball while maintaining stability.
The first bit of golf instruction is from Ryo Ishikawa, a great professional player who is from Japan. The sub-heading advises, "Hit the ball on the green." I imagine Ryo would not have said that, as it seems obvious. He states that he aims for the "safety space" of the green, not the "narrow space." He does not take a big risk, remains calm and, therefore, makes a good swing.
Next, he talks about is rhythm. He tends to get too fast, so he works on a slow take-away, trying not to be in a hurry with his swing. Let speed build gradually. Good stuff.
Reading the next page, though, causes me to say out loud, "Oh no." His father, who is his coach, tells him to maintain the angle of his right wrist when he swings down. The accompanying photo shows that good ol' "lag position" that is so popular in the golf instruction world. A tip goes along with the photo: "Golfers who have active hands rely on timing to square the face. With quiet hands, you'll increase your chances of hitting it solid."
"Oh no," I say again, and think My students will set themselves back if they read this.
I have a student who recently came for his sixth lesson. We had been making good headway, as he is extremely dedicated to practicing. This time, however, he was hitting crazy-bad shots. Since we had progressed already to woods and driver, he was of course using them, but with great effort on this day. After about ten minutes, of only bad shots, I asked him if he had been reading anything or watching the Golf Channel. He said he had reading about the swing. This was no surprise, as there was loss of power, off centre contact with the ball, effort, and a lot of *thinking time (It is obvious when we are thinking vs. doing during the swing.). I asked if what he read had something having to do with "lag" or “holding the angle of the right wrist and club shaft” down to the ball. He said yes.
The problem with trying to "hold the angle" for as long as possible during the downswing or to "get more lag" is that, it is actually an effect, it is not cause.
In this same feature, Ryo also talks about my second least favourite swing tip- leading his downswing with his waist and hips. (Oh no.) Fortunately he does say "Delaying the rotation of the upper body on the downswing helps prevent and out-to-in swing, which is a major cause of slicing."
Through teaching for 15 years, I have a pretty good system of showing people how to swing a golf club. And I do know that what doesn't work is giving a student too much information at once. Thinking of too many mechanical things while trying to hit a golf ball really makes the game difficult.
So, back to the downswing: The problem with making the hips go, but holding the upper body back is not many people, including myself, can pull this off. I know that for me, and for many people I've talked to about their instructional journey, when we were taught to unwind the hips first, it caused massive problems: Power loss, an outside-in/over-the-top swing, shanks, flipped left wrists and misery. If we learn it and teach it in a different way, or work up to it, we can get the coordination of the entire body. But most of the recreational golfers I teach, cannot do this. It is a move that tour players work on, but only after years of working on a general repeating swing, coordinating the hands and arms with the body. It should not be given as a tip for someone who is just beginning or someone who shoots 100. Most people have no time to practice properly. Instructors would be better off to give us things that work right now, things that are tangible and that make sense. Recreational golfers don't need complicated and technical things that they have to practice for five years. They are not going to stick with something that is too difficult or unhelpful. They will end up frustrated and quit the game. It is supposed to be fun.
"Golf is a simple game that has been made complicated."
Fortunately, later in the magazine, a spread by PGA Instructor Mike Bender talks about the things that are easy to do, firing the clubhead, throwing it. "Snap Speed," he calls it. Quiet body. He says, "Your body has to brake on the downswing so the energy you're creating moves out to the club." Da daaaaaa! Next blog.
1. Have fun :-) and relax, it's just a game.
We sometimes forget the next one:
2. Get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible.
The magazines and Golf Channel certainly distract us from this. Often, we are urged to buy new equipment- "You will magically hit the ball farther!" I agree with using new technology. Today's equipment does make the game easier.
It is a good idea to take inventory of our games. What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses, what do we want to improve this year, for instance? If are honest, our practice sessions consist of repetitive bashing of a bucket of balls, mostly with the same three or four clubs, to the same target. I am guilty of this myself. What if we changed clubs and targets more often? A great exercise to use at the driving range is to "play a round of golf." Have a golf course you know, in mind. Tee off, using driver, then use the appropriate club for the second shot on the golf course you are playing in your imagination. Continue until you "get to the green."
Another idea during practice sessions is to get more creative and try using a club differently. Left handed. Hit the ball as low as you can with a seven iron. Hit the ball as high as you can. Hook the ball a little. Hook the ball a lot. Slice it. Hit it with no wrist, hit it with lots of wrist. See what happens. How does the trajectory of the ball's flight change?
A great challenge, next time you go practice, is to hit each ball to a different target, with a different club. This does take discipline- I admit I need to do this more too!
Work on being creative in your practice sessions so that when you get on the golf course, you can put the ball in the hole in so many different ways.
If you truly want to improve your scores though, two thirds of your practice must be spent on your short game. And there, is a topic for a future blog.
From their first shots, I could see the talent. My job was to guide them, help them. I didn't have to show them how to play the game.
Christine graduated from San Diego State University this past May and has now turned professional.
I was given a coaching opportunity recently and so went down to Phoenix with her so she could play a Cactus Professional Tour Event. She did fantastic, finishing fourth and making a paycheque in her pro debut Tournament. I was happy to witness her playing some great golf and am so proud of her.
She is on to Stage Two of the LPGA Tour Qualifying School Tournament. It is in Venice, Florida October 8-11, 2013. Everyone connected to golf in Canada is pulling for her!
A simple practice method to help break you out of a robotic practice session is to “play golf” on the range and on the practice green. Take a few shots to warm up. Once you have warmed up, “play” a few holes in your mind. Use your driver to tee off on the first hole. Then, with your next ball, hit an iron shot. If the drive pushed a little to the right, for example, play this second shot as though you are navigating the right tree line, getting the ball back in play. Continue until you have “reached the green.”
At the practice green, chip one ball and then putt it as though you are in the actual game trying to get up and down. Do this for “three holes” or “nine” if you have time.
We all would enjoy the game more if we had realistic expectations about our results. Not every shot in a round is going to be perfectly solid. In fact some of the best players in the world have said “golf is a game of misses,” and “he/she who misses it the best wins.” If we accepted those missed-hits, we would save our energy, have more fun and most likely have a better round. The thin shot that rolls up on the green, that isn’t so bad. In a tournament, I once skulled a four-iron all the way into the hole for eagle. While I was in the post-shot follow-through I was groaning and whining inside. And “plop,” in it went.
The best we can do is quickly (after impact) accept the shot, the bounce, the result whether good or bad. By having a neutral accepting state of mind, and practicing, and the game will be a lot more fun.
The Event begins with a fun match-play competition called the "Kusak Cup." It is the US Team vs. The World Team. I played against Jordan Allyne from Belleview, Washington. We were paired with another two gals, one from Alaska who was matched against an Australian.
What was interesting is that I am now old enough to be these women's mother. All three are 24 years old. But in golf, age does not matter (too much, other than the fact that these ladies hit the ball a long way past mine). We could all relate to each other because of competitive golf. That is one of the many great things about the game.
Incedentally, the US Team beat the World Team: 3-1/2 to 1-1/2. We'll get 'em next year.
This all applies to your golf game too. If you want your scores to be lower, your handicap to be lower, you have to set a concrete goal and have a practice plan. One hour a day is a start. If that is not realistic, then start with one hour, three times a week. It doesn't just happen automatically. You must have a plan, and work the plan to make a change and reach a goal.