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Monday, December 12, 2011

What Happens at Impact and After?

In the previous post I identified the "slot" and the benefits of getting the club in this powerful position.  Prior to impact the club was lagging behind my hands and in position to deliver the blow. Now, at impact, the left arm is in line with the golf club and the left wrist is flat.  The right arm is tucked to my side and the right wrist is bent.  In essence, the club head has caught up with my hands at impact.




To help you get a better feel for impact, imagine you are painting a wall.  With the brush in your right hand, move the brush from right to left to bend the bristles against the wall.  As you move the brush on the wall the right wrist is leading the bristles.  This is the position of your right wrist just prior to and at impact.  You certainly would not push the brush across the wall.  If you did, you wouldn't get much paint on the wall.

Note how the right wrist is leading the brush


Now put the brush in your left hand and make the same motion.  Your left wrist will be firm and flat as you move the brush across the wall.  This is the same feel you should have with a golf club in hand just prior to and at impact.

                                      

Practice hitting chip shots and imagine your are painting a stripe on the turf as you strike the ball.  This is a good drill and will help you get the feel of the left wrist leading the club into impact.



The biggest mistake most golfers make is the left wrist breaks down and this prevents the proper folding of the left arm after impact.  Note the gap between the left arm and the side in the picture below.  This position of the left arm is commonly referred to as a "chicken" wing.



In the picture below, you can really see how the left arm is not folding properly.  The left elbow should be facing more down and not to the left as it is in this photo.







After a little work on the practice tee, look at the new and improved position in the picture below.


Look how the left arm is closer to the side and the right arm is extending through the shot.



When looking at video or stop action pictures, I look for the above position after impact.  Note how my left hand is visible and my right hand is above my left hand.  This position indicates a good release has happened and a good shot is the result.

Prior to impact the left wrist should be leading the club head into the ball.  Just after impact, the left arm will begin to fold and the force of the club swinging will allow the wrists to release.  Imagine you were going to make a backswing and then sling your club out in the range. Now that would be a true release!  But I think you would see if you were going to sling your club out in the driving range, your arms would extend toward that end result.

The bottom line is to try and feel like you are swinging through the ball to the target and not just swinging at the ball.  Most golfer's practice swings are better than their real swings.  Without a ball, it seems the effort level is greatly reduced.  The next time you go practice, another great drill to perform is to hit balls with a 7 iron off a tee and try to feel you are making a full swing, but try to feel like you are exerting 50% of your normal energy.  I think you will be suprised how much better your ball striking will get.












Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Swing the Club in the Slot for Consistent Shots

To hit consistently good golf shots, you have to be in the "slot" from backswing through impact.  In the following pictures I have drawn two lines to help identify the location of the slot.  One line is on the shaft plane and the other is what I call the "Hogan" plane.  The shaft plane is simply the angle of the shaft in the set up position.  The Hogan plane is taken from the book "Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf" in which Ben Hogan demonstrates the plane using a line drawn from the top of his shoulders to the golf ball. 

                                       The "slot" is the area between these two lines or planes.

On the backswing, keep your hands, arms and club in this slot.  If you get above or below these two lines on the backswing, it is very difficult to hit good shots without a great deal of manipulation or re-routing of the club.  It requires a blend of body turn and arm swing to get in the slot on the backswing.
In other words, if you swing your arms too much up and down with no body turn, you will be above the top plane.  This causes you to be too steep coming down and the result will be deep divots and inconsistent shots.  On the other hand, you could have too much body turn and not enough up and down with the arms and the result will be shots hit thin and usually to the right of target.


There are a small number PGA TOUR players that play quite well that do not stay in this slot on the backswing.  But, they recover and hit fantastic shots because they are naturally gifted and can make the necessary correction to be in the slot on the downswing.  Plus, they hit thousands of practice balls to groove their own swing.  If you look at the swing of any top player, you will find it true they are in the slot on the downswing.


To get in the slot on the downswing, you have to feel like you start your downswing with a slight shift of your weight to the front leg and then turn your front hip out of the way.  In the above picture, my hips are turning to the left, but notice how my chest is still facing the golf ball.  If I let my chest "open" or swing to the left too soon, I would be "over the top" and either pull the ball or slice it to the right. 

At impact, the club should still be in the slot.  Notice how the club has returned to almost the same angle as it started in the set up.  Look how my left hip is turned to the left yet my chest is still facing the ball. 


As I move into the finish, you can see how my club is back in the slot.  My chest has now caught up with the hip turn and my shoulders will out turn my hips at the very end of the swing.


The best practice drill to help you ingrain the feeling of being in the slot on the downswing is what I call the "pump" drill.  Without a ball, swing to the top of your backswing and pause.  Then, feel your left hip start the downswing by sliding a couple of inches toward the target and let your hands just drop straight down about a foot simultaneously.  You will feel your right elbow move into your right side.  Repeat this move several times.  Now that you have the correct feel, try hitting balls.  Your swing thought will be to feel your right elbow dropping close to your right side on the downswing.




Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Putting Practice

The PGA TOUR season is almost over and it is interesting to look at all the stats which are maintained.  Of particular interest to me is the average distance from the hole from 150-175 yards from the best players in the world.  I like to use this distance as I feel this would be an average 7 iron yardage for these professionals.  When I ask my students what they think is the average distance, I usually get a very low number such as 5-10 feet.  The actual average from the best players in the world from this distance is 27'8"!

We are used to watching these players on Sunday afternoon making one great shot after another.  What you have to remember is we are watching the best players that are "on" their game that particular week.  They are making it look easy.  We don't get to see the 70+ players that missed the cut. 

The point is, if the best players in the world are averaging 27'8" with a 7 iron in their hand, what are you averaging?  I am guessing the number is a bit more.  So what does this have to do with putting practice?

You should focus your putting practice on putts in the 30-50 foot range.  My recommendation is to place three targets at 30', 40' and 50' and practice putting to these targets.  I use three pieces of string about 6' long and place the string at the above measurements.  I tie the string to a tee at each end to secure on the putting surface.  I have my students putt 5-10 balls to each measurement.  Then, I have them mix it up.  They will putt one ball to the 30' string, then one to the 50' string and then one to the 40' string.  It doesn't matter which order you use, this drill is designed to increase your feel for distance control.

I have found that it helps to practice putting with just your dominate hand on the putter.  If you are right handed, then put your left hand behind your back and putt to these targets with just your right hand on the putter.  Your dominate hand is your accelerator, and your other hand is for support.  Think of tossing an object under handed to someone.  Obviously as the person moves further away from you, there is a bigger arm swing.  It is the same in putting, and by practicing to different targets, you are increasing your feel.  After hitting a fews putts with just one hand on the putter, place both hands on the putter and try to feel your dominate hand doing the work. 

You should also practice putts in the 3-4' range.  I recommend using three balls and find a level putt on the putting green.  Try to make all three balls from the north, south, east and west side of the hole.  Try to go at least three times around hole and see if you can make all 36 putts from this range.  It is harder than it sounds, but it will make these putts easier on the course!

So this is the long and short of it to becoming a better putter!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Improve Your Alignment on the Green

My next few posts will be focused on improving your putting.  I am going to begin by providing a few thoughts on proper alignment.  A properly fit putter is paramont when it comes to alignment.  If your putter is not the correct length or lie for you, proper alignment will be difficult to consistently achieve.  When you take your set up, make sure you place the ball in the middle of the line or dot on your putter. 


The number one cause of missed putts is poor alignment!  Short putts are where you are most vulnerable so I will emphasize this area.  For example, on a short putt, let's say inside five feet, you feel you should make this putt most of the time.  But, if you are lined up an inch off line, you are not going to make the putt.  If you have a thirty foot putt, you would like to make the putt, but the chances are you are not.  So the idea is to get the ball as close as possible.  If you are lined up an inch off line, you can still be fairly close to the hole as long as your speed is good.  It's not to say you shouldn't focus on your alignment on long putts, just begin with the short putts first to begin the process.

The best way to practice your alignment inside five feet is to use two alignment rods as pictured.


Find a level putt and place a rod on each side of the hole.  Simply put your ball in the middle of the rods about three feet from the hole and start putting.  The rods will also help you line your feet and shoulders parallel to your target.  You will find your path will improve as well.  If your putter is moving outside the rods on this short putt, you will be able to correct immediately.


              It will be easy to see if your putter is aligned to the target using the rods as a guide.



Another great tool to use is a yardstick.  Again, find a level putt and place the yardstick on the edge of the hole.  Place your ball on the yardstick and make putt after putt. 


Making short putts is a habit you can develop.  It does not matter which devices you use for alignment, but use something that will provide a line or path to the hole.  After using the devices for a few minutes, your confidence will be soaring and your alignment will improve immensely.  Now take the aids away and practice making short putts on your own.  I think you will now have a good "picture" of proper alignment.

When I am checking a student's alignment during a lesson, I use a laser light and a target.  The laser provides instant feedback as to the position of your putter face.


Once your are lined up, you are free to make a smooth stroke with no compensations.  You will make more short putts and better align the long putts too.  See my previous post regarding reading break and how to line up those longer putts.








Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Good, the Bad...the Ugly!

How many times have you had a great front nine score and then turn around and play terrible on the back?  Or, you hit a great shot and then hit the next one like you have never played golf?  We have all done this from time to time and it can be frustrating.  What happened?

In golf, you just cannot predict what score you will shoot, nor do you want to.  The worst thing you can do is step up on a short hole and think you are going to make a birdie.  This means you are thinking too much about the result or the future and not enough about the process of hitting your shot to the desired target.
This lack of attention to the shot at hand causes the cycle of inconsistency to begin in my opinion. 

Remember, there are NO GUARANTEES in golf.  If you play most of your golf at your home course, it is easy to get complacent in your focus.  Before you know it, you are just going through the motions and the bad and ugly starts happening.

The best way to gain control of your game is to improve your thought process (target selection, pre-shot routine), course management (club selection, aim) and emotions.  When stepping up to any shot, your focus should be on the process of hitting the shot and not the outcome.  It is OK to acknowledge any hazards lurking in the distance, then block them out and focus on your TARGET!
My target is the sand dune between me and the fairway.
Your course management or strategy for the shot will be determined largely by your current ability.  In other words, if you cannot carry the bunker that is 210 yards off the tee, then your target and club selection will need to be adjusted to get you safely in the fairway.  If there is a water hazard or deep bunker on the right side of the green, then your target should be on the left side.

Once you have your target identified, you must block out all other obstacles and play from point A to point B with no mental interference.  You must not have a score in mind when you play a shot.  Stay in the present and make the best swing you can make. 
Eliminate the interference and play from point A to point B.

Do not let your emotions ruin your game.  If you happen to miss your target and end up in a hazard, you must remain positive and go through your routine for the next shot.  The worst thing to do is follow a bad shot with another bad shot caused by rushing and not thinking the shot through clearly.  Remember, each shot deserves to be hit with the same focus and attention regardless of the prior result. 

You can develop this focus on the practice tee by always choosing a specific target for each shot you hit. I find it helpful to imagine hazards on the practice range you have to avoid.  Strive to improve your quality of practice and not necessarily the quantity of balls you hit when practicing. 

Build good practice habits, follow your routine on the course for each shot and you will be on your way to the Good, and not the Bad or Ugly!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Playing Successfully in the Wind

March came in like a lion and is still roaring!  It seems the winds have been blowing 15-20 mph this entire spring. 

Here are a few general rules for taming the wind.

When playing in the wind, and any inclement weather for that matter, you will tend to do things much quicker than normal.  So, the first rule when playing in the wind is to slow down!  Avoid the tendency to rush through your pre-shot routine by slowing down all of your movements prior to hitting your shot.  This will help set the tone for a slower and smoother swing.  You also want to avoid swinging too hard in the wind.  The old adage "swing easy when it's breezy" is still in vogue.  I recommend thinking about the pace of your arms when you swing.  Try to feel the arms swinging back and through at the same pace.  Using a speed scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being slow and 5 being fast, try to swing back and through at a 3.  This will help your balance and ball striking and this pace is maintained whether you are headed into or down wind.

The second rule is to grip down the shaft when it is windy.  This adjustment tends to make the shaft play stiffer and helps keep the ball flight lower.  In conjuction with gripping down the shaft, I suggest playing the ball a little further back in your stance.  For an iron or hybrid, I would move the ball position about two inches behind the center of your stance and for a wood, move it back about two to three inches inside your front heel. 

The third rule is to adjust your aim to allow for the wind.  I will say a well struck shot will hold it's line in the wind for the most part.  But, if you already tend to move the ball one way or the other, then plan for it to move more than normal.  When the wind is swirling and you are having difficulty figuring out which way it is blowing, try looking up at the clouds.  Their movement will tell you which way the wind is truly blowing.  If it is a clear day, look at the tree tops and see which way they are moving.

On a windy day you can throw out the yardage book and GPS unit.  Strive for a smooth swing and solid contact.  If it means hitting a 6 iron instead of an 8 iron, then so be it.  Again, it's not how hard you hit the ball, but how solid you hit it.  Typically if you swing too hard the ball will "balloon" or go way too high.

The bottom line for playing successful wind shots is to grip down, slow down, and swing smoothly.

Good luck, calmer days are ahead.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Hit the High, Soft Pitch Shot Around the Green

The high, soft pitch shot is very useful when you have to carry a bunker or swale around a green.  This shot does take practice but I will share with you some keys to work on.  The swing I am making is for a 20 yard carry.  I will use my most lofted wedge for this shot (58-60 degrees).  You do not have to open the face for this shot.  With the correct wedge and technique you will have plenty of elevation on the shot.

                                                    
Set Up- Your stance should be about shoulder width apart with the ball positioned between center and the inside of your front foot.  Your feet will be square to your target but angled slightly toward the target.  Open your hips slightly and this adjustment in combination with the right foot turned inward will prevent a sway and help you bring the club back to the bottom of the ball.  Your hands will be positioned slightly ahead of the ball.
Note the letter "L" formed between my left arm and club
Backswing- The swing starts with the arms and then the hands will hinge upwards.  The hinging action helps to flight the ball higher.  The motion should be smooth from start to finish.  With a little practice you will feel how much swing is needed to carry the ball the correct distance.  Keep in mind the swing shown is used from 20 yards and closer to the green.  As you move further away there will be more arm, shoulder and foot movement.


Finish- The length of the finish should closely match the length of the backswing.  In other words, the club does not stop right after impact as it does for a pitch and run shot.  Let the momentum carry you to the finish.  Since this was a 20 yard pitch, my right heel does not leave the ground.  As the shot gets longer, there will be more of a weight shift on the follow through.
At impact, the goal is to strike the ball and turf at the same time.  

My recommendation is to find your baseline swing for a 20 yard carry.  Once you get this feel, then you will be able to alter the length of the swing to vary the carry distance.  The firmness of the greens and slope will determine how much roll you will have after landing on the green.  You will need to pay attention to this detail when you practice.  Also keep in mind a four piece golf ball will stop more quickly than a two piece.
I teach this shot and many more in my short game series instruction program. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Pitch and Run

If you go back a few posts and review my post on chipping, you will discover I feel the chip swing is always the same length.  When chipping, I always try to land the ball just onto the green and let the ball run to the hole.  The loft of the club you are using to chip with will determine how much roll you will have.



With this thought in mind, you will chip the ball when you are within one to four yards from the edge of the green.  If you get in the zone from five to ten yards from the green this presents an opportunity to pitch and run the ball to the hole.  When you are in this zone, it is difficult to make your chip swing and get the ball to land on the green. 

Now, there are times when you may chip and run the ball; for instance, if the hole is cut very close to the edge of the green and you are in the five to ten yard zone, you may chip the ball through the fringe.  We will discuss this in a later post.

Back to the pitch and run.

For the pitch and run you will use your wedges (50 - 60 degree loft).  The more run you need, the less loft you will use.


The set up for the pitch and run is just like that of a chip shot.  Note the ball position is located off my right big toe.  My hands are located on the crease of my pants.  This set up keeps the flight of the ball low and encourages more roll after landing on the green.


My goal when hitting the pitch and run is to land the ball approximately two paces onto the green.  This provides me a little margin for error.  If I miss my target by a pace, I will still end up with a pretty good result.

The pitch and run backswing is similar to a chip swing except you add just a bit of wrist hinge.  You can see
my hands travel just past my right leg and the club is parallel to the ground.

                                           

The follow through for the pitch and run is like that of a chip shot.  Note how the shaft and my left arm are in alignment.  This finish will produce a low flight and more roll out.


I always strike the ball first and then the turf when hitting a chip shot and the pitch and run.  I find it helpful to take a practice swing before executing the shot just to get a feel for the turf.

I will discuss the high, soft pitch shot in the next post.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Great Putting Drill to Help you make a Smooth Stroke!

If you are having difficulty controlling your distance on the putting green, you probably have a little too much "hit" in your stroke.  This can be especially true if you are putting on overseeded greens.  When the greens get slow, you feel you have to pound the ball to get it to the hole.  Then, when you go play a course where the greens are not overseeded, you hit every putt way too hard!

If this sounds familiar, I have a great drill for you to try.

To get the feel of a proper putting stroke, I would like for you to simply take some practice putting strokes with your eyes closed.  Since there is no ball in front of you, there will be no urge to "hit" the ball.  You will feel a flowing stroke absent of tension.  Pay particular attention to your follow through.  There should not be a sudden "stop" at the end of the stroke.  Just think "back and through".

Now, find a level putt of about 20' in length on the putting green.  Take your set up, look at the hole for at least three seconds, look back at the ball, close your eyes and putt (don't open your eyes until the ball is well on it's way to the hole).  You may be suprised as to how close you will come to making the putt, even with your eyes closed!  By looking at the hole for three seconds, you are allowing your brain and eyes to calibrate the amount of stroke needed to get the ball to the hole.

Another way to do this drill involes the use of a friend.  Again, find a level 20' putt.  Take your set up, close your eyes and start making continuous practice strokes.  The strokes should match the distance you are trying to hit the putt.  As you are making these strokes your friend will place a ball in the way of the putter.  You will not know when a ball is going to placed in front of you.  I suggest making about 10-15 continuous strokes and your friend may or may not put a ball in front of you on every practice stroke.  The point is you will not know when a ball is going to be there, so your stroke will become very smooth and even. 

After perfoming these drills for a few minutes return to putting with your eyes open.  Focus on these areas the remainder of your putting practice:

1.  Always look at the hole for at least three seconds before you putt. 
2.  As you are standing next to your ball, make a practice stroke while looking at the hole.
3.  As you make your stroke, it should feel more even...remember "back and through".  No sudden stop at the end of the stroke. 
4. LET THE BALL BE WELL ON IT'S WAY TO THE HOLE BEFORE LOOKING UP!

Good Putting!!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finish in Balance to Improve your Swing

Finish with the 7 iron
Does your finish really make a difference?  You bet it does! How many times have you lost your balance in your swing and hit a great shot?  Not many times I am guessing!

You should be able to maintain your finish position after the ball has long left the club face.  If you are out of balance then you are either swinging out of control or you are out of position at some point during the swing.

The finish I made in the picture to the left is with a 7 iron.  There are three key positions to look for in your finish with all full swings(right handers):

1.  Your left leg should be straight and supporting the majority of your weight with your right foot released from the ground positioned on your right tip toe.

2.  Your torso and right knee should be facing the target.

3.  The shaft should be about neck high with your right shoulder closer to the target than the left shoulder.

For my students struggling to get to this finish I will have them perform "front end" therapy.  Front end therapy is a name for a  four step drill I use to get them to focus and feel the proper finish.  The drill works like this:

1.  Without a ball, take your 7 iron and get into your golf posture with the club soled on the ground.
2.  Now, without taking a backswing, swing to the finish and strive to copy the finish in the above picture.

You may have a little trouble at first getting into the correct, balanced finish, but after several repititions you will get the hang of it.  The second step of this drill follows:

1.  Tee up a ball about 1/2" high.
2.  Take your 7 iron and get into your golf posture.
3.  For this step you are allowed to take a very small backswing (about a foot long) and then as you move through the ball to your finish you will clip the ball from the tee and it will travel about 10 yards.  The goal is to keep the effort level down while focusing on the finish.

Step three of this drill allows you to take a 1/2 backswing to the finish and then step four allows you to take a full swing and go to your finish.   At step three the ball may travel about 50 yards and at step four the ball may travel around 100 yards.  Again, we are looking for the effort level to be slow and smooth while finishing in balance.  I will have the student hit about 10-15 balls at each step of the drill.  What I have found is by focusing on the correct finish, any backswing issues there may have been tend to take care of themselves.

After performing all four steps of this drill, you are ready to hit full shots, but remember, the goal is to finish in balance and the correct position!

You may ask is the finish the same for every full swing?  The answer is yes!


Look how similar the finish on the left with the driver is to the finish on the right with the pitching wedge.  Now compare them to the finish with the 7 iron.














Now take a look at this driver swing from down the line.  Note how you can see the entire bottom of my right shoe.  I am definitely on my left side and in balance.












To summarize, I think you will discover a tempo or pace for your swing which allows you to move to your finish easily.   Finishing in balance is a habit you can perfect with a little practice!