Monday, November 22, 2010

Hip Action

How many times have you heard the phrase, "fire the hips"?  That phrase gets a lot of golfers in trouble.  The hips should never lead your motion in the golf swing.  If they do, you will be off balance and your rotation will be stopped.  Your motion instead is lead by your sternum or your center of gravity.  To prove this point, try this exercise:

Swing an imaginary club to the top of your back swing.  Now have someone put their hand flat on your right shoulder and chest.  From the top, with your shoulder turn restricted, fire your hips.  The only direction your hips can travel without your torso staying on top of them is out or in a lateral motion.  When that occurs, most people call it a slide.  I usually refer to it as a poor spine angle.  When your spine is tilted back when you are trying to generate speed toward the target, you will hit off of your back foot and usually flip the club through impact to avoid running into the ground.  This is a very common lesson of both beginners and good players.  It also brings up a question often heard on the lesson tee, which is, "how do you start your downswing?"

The golf swing may seem like a movement full of positions and angles due to our use of high speed cameras, but it isn't really.  It is a motion made up of rotation and swinging.  Nothing is static or stopped after the motion begins.  Something is always moving, creating flow and rhythm.  As we talked about earlier, the rotation and swinging create momentum and leverage and that is what powers the swing.  So, back to the question of how to start your down swing.  Your down swing is a part of the full swing.  Your back swing doesn't stop at a certain point and then become your through swing.  Something is always moving.   The transition from back to through happens because your weight begins moving toward the target and your body is rotating to support that movement.  This movement toward the target happens before you reach the top of your back swing and it leads your transition.  Your arms follow this change in momentum and if relaxed, swing down and through the ball.  If you believe you should swing to the top and that there is a pause or that you stop to gather energy, you will have to then create your down swing momentum with your hands.  This is a very common cause for an "over the top" move at the ball.  The inside of the wheel should always power the outside of the wheel.

When you take a step forward, you begin by leaning a bit with your chest.  That momentum is the beginning of the movement chain that allows you to walk.  When you throw a ball, you lean forward, step and turn your chest.  Both of these are motions we learn as a child and need little or no thought to perform.  Golf, however, is often learned at a later stage and many times the motions are taught incorrectly.  Now, instead of changing momentum from back to through as we would when throwing a ball, we get caught up in a good back swing and put too much thought into it, versus thinking of swinging to the target.  We get stuck.

That is one reason that we often teach beginners what a great finish looks like first.  We want beginners to get oriented to the target.  We want their movements to be "through" not only down to the ball.  We want beginners to use their natural abilities that they use when they throw.  The big difference is, this is an underhand move.  One of my favorite analogies that clicks with students is to move as though you were skipping stones.  It creates the right chain of movements, it allows freedom and rotation and it gets the arms soft and working close to the body.  Imagine learning to skip stones as a kid and having the advice of "firing the hips".  Now you understand what the hips role is in the swing.  They support you and your rotation.  They flex to provide you with strength and proper posture.  They rotate about 30-40% less than your shoulders.  They never lead your turn, whether back or through.  I hope this helps you understand the role of your hips and where momentum is created in your swing.  If not, fire me a question and I will answer it.  Remember, free advice from your buddies might cost you money in the end if you like to make a friendly wager.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Simplest Approach to the Short Game

As a coach, I always thought of a good short game as a good defense.  You can't win championships unless you play good defense.  Whenever you make a mistake on the golf course, have an off day with your ball striking, ignore course management or simply get a bad break, your short game will be your savior.  If you have a great short game, you can be a bit more liberal with your course management and go for some tough pins.  You may short side yourself, but with a good short game, you will still have an opportunity for a par. I can still remember watching Lorena Ochoa play for the first time in Miami at Doral.  She was about 15 or 16 years old and she short sided herself in deep rough with no green to work with and well below the level of the hole.  She took a big swing and threw a shot up right next to the hole.  I thought it was a fluke until I saw the same shot 9 holes later.  Her short game betrayed her imagination, hard work and determination.  It was easy to see she would one day be a champion.

My definition of the short game is any shot within 50 yards of the hole.  That includes putting, which might be the most important shot to master.  However, today we are going to talk about shots from off the green.  The simplest way to think about short game is to ask yourself, what do I want the ball to do?  The planning and visualization process is probably a key to having a great short game.  Here is what is involved:
  1. What sort of lie is your ball in?  Good lies allow for many possibilities.  Poor lies usually dictate fewer choices.
  2. Where do you want to land the ball?  If possible, you are looking for a flat spot that offers a  predictable reaction when the ball hits.  
  3. How will the ball react?  For example, if the ground is firm, the first bounce will be a big one.  If it is soft or wet, the ball will check.  
  4. Visualize the flight, landing, bouncing and roll out of the golf ball.  If you can't see it prior to hitting it, you will have a tough time producing the shot.  
  5. Finally, create a pre-shot routine that allows you to see it, feel it and execute it.  In other words, visualize the shot, take a practice swing to rehearse the shot and then aim the club and hit the ball.
Now that you know exactly what you want to do with the ball, how do you get the club to produce the shot?  Your technique is important in the short game, because the movements are very small and there is no recovery time if you get the club off balance.  Many golfers take full swing lessons, but rarely take short game lessons.  A short game lesson should teach you not just the proper techniques needed to hit shots around the green, but also how to see the shot you need to hit in different situations. 

As we go, we will talk about the techniques needed to produce any shot you want to hit around the green.  For now, think about the process of planning and executing listed above whenever you are faced with an up and down possibility.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Golfweek's Julie Williams Writes About the First Tee!

I love that the First Tee will help us develop the game and our business by showing kids how they can work with the game they love.  This is a great article about their latest efforts.  

In Touch With Competition

It is important as a teacher to stay in touch with competition.  The way that I manage to do that is to caddy for my students.  Caddying is a job that teaches you a lot about your students and their games.  It is also a job that teaches the importance of separating playing the game from working on the game.  That is what I want to talk about today.

As a teaching pro, I spend a great deal of time helping people with their technique.  We work on swings, putting strokes, short game shots and wedges.  There is a lot of energy and thought given to the movements needed to produce shots.  Hopefully, after a lesson, there is also a lot of energy given to practicing those movements.  The practice needed to learn a shot should be thought of as the transition from learning to doing.  Remember when you learned to drive?  There was a thought process to everything, from looking in your rearview mirror to using your turn signals.  All the little things seemed like a lot to remember, but in no time at all, you were checking the mirrors, using your turn signals, changing the channel on the radio and checking out other cars for your friends.  With time, you made the transition from conscious movements to unconscious movements.  That is what we hope for in golf.

However, many people never make that transition to unconscious movements and therefore are constantly working on their game instead of playing it.  An example of a conversation a caddy might have with her player would be something like this:  "We have 158 yards to the hole.  The green is firm so you want to land the ball at about 150 yards.  You have a little wind behind you and the ball is a bit below your feet.  Do you like the 8 aimed a few yards left of the hole?"  Hopefully, your suggestion is the same as what the player has in mind and you can then talk about a specific target and perhaps the trajectory of the shot.  By the time the player is over the ball, she is completely into the target you have talked about and can clearly picture the ball's flight.

LPGA Member Amanda Blumenhurst with her caddy at Wegman's.

This is very different than the lesson tee, where the conversation for that shot might go like this:  "The ball is below your feet so you want to have a little more bend from the waist and keep your head very centered as you swing the club.  There isn't as much movement for this shot, so don't worry about making a big finish, just let your arms do the work.  The slope will cause the club face to be a bit open through impact which will make the ball fall to the right and perhaps take a little distance off of it.  It helps to get a wider stance when the ball is below your feet.  That will lower your shoulders without too much knee or waist bend.  This shot will fly a bit higher because you are coming in steeper than a regular iron shot due to your posture.

In the first conversation, the player is completely focused on what the ball will do when she hits it.  In the second conversation, the player is focused on how to stand to hit the shot, staying centered, letting the arms swing, how the club face will look and how much knee and waist bend is right.  These are all important things when learning how to hit a shot with the ball below your feet.  However, this checklist has to be the same as your driving checklist and become automatic prior to playing the game.  Otherwise, your body will not perform with freedom, but will be robotic.  Freedom is what allows the brain to visualize the shot and the muscles to perform it.  That is what we are all working toward when we learn the game of golf.  Freedom allows us to get lost in shots and have joy in the outcomes.  It also seems to take away some of the pain when shots fail, because you know in your heart that you did all that you could to hit a good shot.  When a golfer stays in the work mode on the golf course and has a lengthy checklist needed to successfully hit a shot, bad shots will always have a reason.  Something in that checklist wasn't accomplished and that was clearly the problem.

What should you take from this blog?  First, balance.  Your game should include lessons, practice, play and competition.  All of these actions will require a different mindset and there should be a progression from the lesson tee to competition.  Many of you are thinking that you don't compete, but if you tee it up and have a chance for your personal best, that is a competition.  If you keep score, you compete.  If you post a score in public, you are truly competing.  The angst that comes with posting a score is perhaps the most important emotion that we need to learn to handle.  

Second, you should understand that analysis on the golf course happens when planning the shot to hit, but not when thinking of how to move to produce the shot.  Analysis used in this way will tighten your muscles and slow them down.  

The next time you take a lesson, ask the pro how to practice what you learned.  Then ask how to take it to the course and finally, figure out how to use what you learned without thinking about it.  That is golf!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lots of Giving in the News

Link to Golfweek Story of Kim's Win

In-Kyung Kim won Lorena Ochoa's tournament in Guadalajara this past weekend.  She got a check for $220,00 and promptly donated half of it to Lorena's foundation that helps kids.  That alone would be a cause for a pause, but she then promised the other half of the winnings to a charity to be named in the U.S.  In the article, she remembered the help that she received when she was 16.  That help, from an unnamed man, helped her achieve her goals in the U.S.

I love it when pros "get it" and think of others.  She understands that her journey was made possible only through help from others and she is now becoming a benefactor to young people with hopes and dreams, just as she had at one time.  For every pro athlete who is running around on a spouse, getting a D.U.I, or treating someone poorly, I hope there are ten who are doing good things like this.  I think the media likes the negative stories a bit more than these stories of generosity though. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Please Release Me, Let Me Go!

Release is the moment of truth!  It is that feeling of ease and power combined.  It is the motion that makes golf a bit like powder skiing - the word that best describes it is ahhh.  When the average player feels a great release of the golf club, it is what brings that player back to the course or the driving range for more.  So how do you do it?  What is release?  Simply stated, when you release the club, you have effectively used a lever.

Check out this footage of Iron Byron and you will get an idea of pure leverage used to hit a golf ball.
Iron Byron
This link will also take you to a pro who uses this as a method for teaching.  I get the idea, but really?  If we all had a stable fulcrum in the front of our chest, one arm that bent both ways at the elbow and someone who oiled us regularly, then I could see the reasoning behind this approach, however, I think the thing we should be taking away from this machine is simply the lever system of the back swing and release.

This machine does a great job of setting the angle between the shaft and its arm, it creates momentum by dropping the club from the top and it releases the lever and the momentum at the bottom of the swing as the club head passes the center of the machine.  Here are the things that I believe golfers should take away from watching the mechanics of a much simpler machine than the human body.

First, the arm of the machine and the shaft of the club form a straight line at impact.  That straight line gives the club maximum release and therefore maximum speed.  In golf, speed = power.  If you look at yesterday's blog, you will see that many golfers release the club too early and throw the club head or hang on to the angle too long by moving the handle of the club laterally.  They never achieve that straight line that the machine achieves.  Why?  There are so many reasons.  Lack of strength, lack of understanding, too much or too little grip tension and a fixation on hitting vs. swinging are all reasons I see daily.  Check out this video and you will see an example of a great release:
Ricky Fowler Face On
If you can stop it right at the :28 second mark, you will see the perfect straight line needed for maximum speed.  Ricky Fowler is currently 45th in driving distance stats on the PGA Tour with an average drive of 292.9 yards.  He is 5'8" and weighs just 150 lbs.  His swing is the perfect example of speed = power.

Okay, so it is one thing to talk about it or to watch, but how do you do it?  First, it is important to understand that your hands are what creates the load on the golf club to impart force.  The hands create acceleration and direction of your clubhead and therefore your ball.  If your hands are in charge, they need to have a good grip on the club.  (We will talk about what is a good grip in an upcoming blog.)  That grip pressure needs to be reactive to the forces you put on it during the swing.  Think of this example.  You are vacuuming your house with a heavy vacuum.  Your hand is firm on the handle, but not tight.  However, when you get to the maximum extension point of your sweep, your grip pressure will be much firmer.  You can use any example where you create force with your hands, such as shoveling snow or chopping wood.  In all actions, your arms are soft, but strong, which allows your hands and wrists to be firm when needed.  When you arms are too tight in any of these activities, it ruins the chain of movements and puts a lot of tension in your shoulders.  Golf is exactly the same. 

When I hear people give advice about grip pressure, I think much of it is misplaced.  Occasionally, I will see a person hanging on too tightly, but more often it is that their elbows are locked or their arms are tight, giving them loose hands and floppy wrists.   These golfers often let go of the club at the top of their swing, because something has to give.  Many of them actually let go prior to or right at impact also, thus taking away the force that creates the straight line we are looking for at impact.  If your hands are what provides the force in the leverage system of the golf swing, they should be in control at all times, not barely hanging on. 

Some people who don't release the club correctly are under the impression that your hands need to be in front of the club head at impact.  That is true, but the design of the club will take care of that for you.  If you try to make that happen instead of releasing at the ball, you will never get as much speed as you could and your power will be lacking.  Another problem, especially for new golfers, is the idea that the club is for hitting not for swinging.  When that is your intention, your hands will usually stop too soon and the club head gets thrown too early.  If we used the instincts we develop when we are kids swinging on swings, we would quickly understand that acceleration through the bottom of the arc doesn't end until we reach the end of our momentum.  That instinct used in the golf swing allows the hands to maintain their speed and deliver the club head at the bottom.

I hoped today's discussion of release helped.  The idea of allowing the club and your arms to form a straight line at impact is a great visual for you to take to the range the next time you practice.  The next blog will be about short game.  By the way, the golf course now has about a foot of snow on it.  It is winter in Vail!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Club's Rotation and Youtube!

Good morning!  I wanted to talk about two things today.  First, I wanted to mention the great array of free information that is out there on the web.  I will be using lots of youtube links today to illustrate my blog.  Youtube is a great source of learning for me and I am constantly checking out different golf swings.  I also go to some of my favorite golf teacher's sites to see what I can learn.  My very favorite is clemshaw's channel on youtube.  Check him out some day when you have some time to kill. ClemShaw explains arm and club rotation.
(Please hit the back arrow on your browser when you are finished to get back to the blog.)

The real reason I am writing today is to continue in the explanation of what the club does during the golf swing.  Today, we are going to talk about the importance of the club's rotation during the swing.  The only moment in the swing that the club doesn't have slight rotation is in the transition from back swing to forward swing.  If the rotation of the club is interrupted at any other time in the swing, the result will be an improper sequence of motion.  When the sequence of motion is off, the result is a breakdown in the basic lever system of the swing and you will lose power and/or accuracy.

When I am on the lesson tee, rotation is probably my most used word when explaining the golf swing.  The reason for that is two-fold.  First, everything rotates when you swing a golf club and most problems that I see rise from a lack of rotation.  I can hear you saying, "Everything?"  Well, maybe not everything, but close.  I will explain that statement on another day.  The second reason that I use the word rotation so much is the reason we are talking about it today and that is because the club must rotate as it swings.

As your golf club swings back and through the ball, your torso rotates, your arms rotate from your shoulders, there is a little rotation in your forearms and all of this causes the golf club to rotate.  Check out this slo mo shot of Luke Donald:
Luke Donald Slo Mo

Watch his gloved hand and you will see that it starts out with the logo facing the target.  As he swings, the logo faces the camera, then the target and very quickly after impact it faces behind him.  If you can, grab a wedge and swing it in front of a mirror, make some small half swings and watch your left hand.  Hopefully, you will see the back of it in the back swing and the knuckles in the through swing.

This is what happens in all good swings and it is simply the rotation of the arms throughout the golf swing and therefore the golf club.  When you watch a pro, it all seems pretty simple and looks easy.  How do we mess it up as amateurs?  The answer is often, we have misconceptions which lead to tension in all the wrong places. 

Many people I see on the lesson tee lose control of the handle of the club on the way down simply because they quit rotating it.  Here are two examples of poor club rotation:

An example of throwing the club head at the ball.  Often called flicking or casting.  Notice the odd position of the left arm and how it seems to have stopped moving.  Lack of rotation is causing a breakdown in the sequence of movements.
In this picture, the club has also stopped rotating, but instead of throwing the club head, the handle of the club is moved laterally through the shot.  Many people are doing exactly as they hope to do here due to misinformation on how the club works through the shot.  Not only does this move suck away power, notice the open club face. 

The first piece of advice you often get when you learn the game is to keep your left arm straight.  Look at Luke's swing again and check out his left arm at the top of his backswing.  See that slight bend?  Luke's arm is fairly straight as it swings back and through, but it is relaxed enough to allow it to bend at the top.  If you took the advice to heart and you really, really wanted to keep your arm straight, you might have locked your left elbow.  This will lead to problems.  To illustrate the proper tension for your arms, we are going to do a little interactive exercise.

Hold your left arm out straight in front of you with a closed fist.  Put your right palm on your left shoulder and turn your fist so the palm faces the sky.  Did you feel the rotation in your shoulder?  I certainly did.  Now, lock your elbow and tighten the muscles in your arm as much as possible and do the same thing.  Did you feel less rotation in your shoulder?  Okay, now grab a wedge with your left hand only and do the same exercise in golf posture with a little swing.  Don't forget to keep your right hand on your left shoulder so you can feel what happens in your shoulder joint. 

When you did this with only a straight left arm, not a locked one, did you feel as though your hand and arm worked as Luke Donald's worked?  I am guessing that when you locked your left elbow, the club felt heavier, off balance and your wrist broke down instead of cocking.  When your left arm has some freedom, your wrist feels strong and supported, but when you lock your elbow, your wrist seems to become a free agent and flips around.

*Instruction Hint:  If you are a golfer whose left arm breaks down a great deal during your back swing, you are probably failing to make a good turn away or you have experienced back pain or injury.  Instead of working on keeping your left arm straight as you swing the club, work on making a good pivot away from the ball and you will probably find that was the real culprit.  If you have had back injuries, bending your left elbow is better for you and your golf swing than putting a lot of torque on your back.  If you don't believe me, check out this video:
Calvin Peete

The second misconception or bad advice we get as golfers is to keep our heads down.  Once again, if you are an overachiever and manage to truly keep your head down, you will not rotate correctly and lose power.  The best youtube video I have ever seen that explains this well is by Tom Watson.  Watch it here:
Tom Watson
You might ask why I included this when the topic of the day is "How Does the Club Swing?".  Today's breakdown of how your club swings is about the golf club's rotation.  If your body doesn't rotate correctly, your arms won't swing freely and your club will not have any rotation.

*Instruction Hint:  Freely swinging arms will allow the golf club to rotate as it swings. 

Next time, our topic will be the release of the club.  Until then, think good thoughts about your swing and your game.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How Does Your Golf Club Swing?

Today's blog is about how the golf club works in your golf swing.  So many people come to see me on the lesson tee worried about what they need to do to hit the ball, but with very little knowledge of what the golf club needs to do to hit the ball.  It will be easier to understand how you need to move if you understand what the club does throughout the swing.

We will talk about three parts of the golf club: the club head, the shaft and the handle and how each works in the swing. Your goal as a player is to learn to control each of these parts.  In order to achieve this goal, you first need to understand what each part is doing during the swing.

The handle of the club is your connection and in essence your steering wheel.  Your hands and arms will interact with the club to create leverage, momentum, rotation and release.   What your hands do with the handle is of the utmost importance to hitting good golf shots.  Whether you are learning golf or an accomplished player, this is the center of your golfing universe. 

We will start with leverage and momentum.  If you simply lifted the handle of the club in front of you and kept your arms, hands and the entire club on the same plane, you would begin to create momentum, but no leverage.

If you have a club nearby, you can try this now.  Your club and arms will feel somewhat heavy and you might be using your shoulders to help lift the club.  *Instruction Hint:  your shoulders shouldn't shrug up and down as you are swinging the golf club. 

Now, instead of lifting your arms, simply cock your wrists in front of you and raise the club head in this way.
When you make this move, you create leverage, but not much momentum.  This move goes by many names, such as creating an angle, setting the club or simply cocking your wrists.  *Instruction Hint:  if your hands move around on the club while setting this angle, we need to work on a better grip.  Time for a grip lesson?

Finally, lets put the two moves together and create both momentum and leverage.  However, I want you to do them in different orders.  First, raise your arms and then cock your wrists.  How did this feel?  Probably a bit cumbersome and I would guess that you are shrugging your shoulders once again.  Now do it in the opposite order and cock your wrists prior to raising your arms.  Do you notice how relaxed your arms stay throughout the movement?  If you look at the top picture of me lifting my club, you will see a lot more tension in my neck and shoulders than you do in the second or third pictures.  There needs to be some tension in your body in a golf swing to maintain structure and balance, but that tension shouldn't be in your shoulders or neck.

Leverage is one of your greatest friends in the golf swing and learning to create it early and correctly will put you on the path to hitting good shots.  The other important lesson to take away from this simple exercise is that the sequence of your movements matter.  Learning to swing the club from the handle will allow you to have tension free arms and shoulders while lifting the club creates tension in those areas.  Be careful of your buddies who talk to you about a "one-piece takeaway" or straight arms.  Both of these tips often create poor sequences and lots of tension.  You can make all the correct movements in the wrong order and look pretty good doing it.  However, those swings rarely have enough freedom to create great power.  If you can swing  the club in the most efficient manner, your body will learn proper movement and motion with much more ease than if you focus on how you should move your body to make the club work. 

Our next blog will cover the rotation and release of the handle of the golf club.  I welcome your questions and comments.  Hopefully, there will be too much snow outside to do these pictures tomorrow!


Hello to the golfers in the Vail Valley!  As I write this it is snowing at the golf course and we are thinking about the upcoming mountain opening.  However, as a golf professional with a passion for the game and teaching, I want to stay in touch with the game and my clients, no matter what the weather.  So, I will offer this blog and I hope all of you take part in it also.  It will include instruction, some tips on golf fitness, interesting news links, travel ideas and whatever you would like to see.  Just make a comment or drop me a line at the course and we will try to cover your ideas or share your news!  I would like to one day put together a book or manual on learning the game of golf so your feedback would be very helpful.  If things aren't clear I would love to know it so I can explain things better and become a better teacher. 


Where do you place your awareness?  This is a gigantic question, because there are so many things, thoughts, people and conditions to be awa...