Sunday, January 30, 2011

From Confidence comes Mental Toughness

It seems that our last two discussions on confidence would lead directly to mental toughness, but they are two distinct areas with some overlap.  There are many confident golfers without the mental toughness needed to stick with a game plan for 18 holes or to choose the conservative option when in trouble.  Both things are important to success, but are separate skill sets.

Mental toughness is the ability to use your thought process to help you and not hurt you on the course.  It is a skill set that blossoms when used consistently.  Many people have the idea that you either have mental toughness or you don't, but it is a skill set that must be learned and practiced.  It is no different from any other skill in golf.  As with all skills, the more you suit your mental toughness to your needs, the better it will be.  We will start with that concept of the uniqueness of your mental toughness.
Graeme McDowell faced immense pressure in 2010 and rose to the occasion to win a major.


What kind of golfer are you?  Are you a risk taker or conservative?  Do you have a great short game or is that a weakness?  When you get in trouble do you look to get out or do you look for the hole?  These types of questions will lead you to decide how you need to game plan and how you will be mentally tough.

Mental toughness entails so many things and is so unique for the player that it is tough to generalize for a blog.  There are some basic skills that are universal and we will start there.  The first is a game plan.  When you go out for a round of golf, there are three areas that you need to manage.  The first is the golf course, the second is your game and the third is yourself.  Every game plan should touch on all three areas.  Here is an example of a general game plan that doesn't include hole by hole plans:
UNM South

UNM - My plan today is to drive the ball in the fairway by playing my draw, remembering to aim for the slopes in the fairways and using the right club off the tee.  On par 5's I will put myself at 80 yards if possible and give myself an open view of the hole location.  On approach shots and on par 3's, I will make sure to aim to the fat of the green and if possible give myself a putt away from the valley.  Because I am hitting my irons low right now, I will make sure to use enough club to get past front hole locations.  I am putting very well, so I will be more conservative on my approach shots and look to the center of the green more than the hole.  My goals for myself are to stay patient, visualize every shot prior to hitting it and relax in between shots.  My smile will be my cue to relax and take it one shot at a time.

That is a game plan for someone who understands her game, knows what she needs to do to play well and wants to be proactive in helping herself achieve what she wants.  It is simple, achievable and will bring results if followed.  The player understands that her putting is a strength and sets herself up to take advantage of it by hitting more greens.  She also understands that her trajectory is too low and she needs to allow more club when hitting with that trajectory to front pins.
Payne Stewart's play at Pinehurst was phenomenal.  He had a solid game plan of which side of each hole he wanted to be on and he followed it religiously.  He preferred to be off the green on the side of the hole he chose vs. on the green and out of position. 
 A game plan is something that takes place prior to your arrival at the course.  It only takes a minute to take an inventory of your game, your tendencies, what you know about the course and what it will take to play well.  When you get to the course, mental toughness means that you have a "warm-up" session prior to your round, not a "practice" session.  What is the difference?  A warm-up session means that you use your time to get your muscles warm and loose, find your rhythm for the day, go through your routine to get focused and hit some solid golf shots.  It becomes a practice session when you allow yourself to react to shots and begin to think about mechanics.  Pulling balls over without a routine or visualization on the range sets a quicker tempo than you usually want on the golf course.  The goal in a warm up session is to have a plan for action, not reactions.  Mental toughness means that you have a plan and you stick to it throughout the day and it starts prior to your round.

An important tool to mental toughness is your routine.  Prior to each shot, there needs to be a commitment to a shot, a visualization of the shot, if needed a feel for the shot and a clear mind stepping into the ball to execute the shot.  Those are the tasks of a routine.  Routines are comforting under pressure.  They give your mind a script instead of having to ad lib your way around the golf course.  Your routine will make it easier to be mentally tough throughout your round.
Annika's pre shot routine took 24 seconds.  Annika's precision with her routine allowed her to execute with a clear mind.  Her 59 is a testament to her ability to see it, feel it and hit it.


Mentally tough golfers stay focused on the things that will help them throughout the round.  It isn't enough to have great focus, you have to put it toward the right things.  It is easy on the golf course to react to mistakes by trying to fix mechanics, making decisions that protect against more mistakes or playing aggressively to make up for the blunders.  None of these things would be in the game plan, but golfers easily slip into these modes when they aren't disciplined with themselves.  Mentally tough players remain in the scoring mode they started the day with and maintain the goals that will help them be successful.  They don't allow their focus to shift to things that are counter-productive to scoring.

There are many, many other ways to be mentally tough on the course.  Some were mentioned in the confidence blog, such as controlling your environment, dealing with distractions and trust in yourself.  We cannot possibly cover all of them.  The best way for you to figure out what you need to be mentally tough is to write down three things:  1.  what you do when you play well  2.  how you lose shots when you don't play well  3.  what traits hurt you as a golfer.
Looking at yourself and your game in the mirror is a step toward mental toughness.


When you play well, where is your focus?  Are you working quickly or slowly?  What part of your game seems strong?  What is your temperament?  Asking yourself these types of questions will help you understand your best self.  When you have a bad hole, where do the shots go?  Do you three putt often or does your driver give you trouble?  Do your bad shots come from bad decisions or bad swings?  When you make a mistake do you play more aggressively or more conservatively?  Do mistakes multiply?  Asking these types of questions should lead you to understand when you need to play a little defense in your game.  If you understand your tendencies to lose shots in a certain area, you can game plan for that area to keep it under control and work on the practice tee to minimize the problem.  Finally, what are you like as a person?  Are you patient or impatient?  Do you like to move quickly or do you take your time?  Are you a risk taker or conservative?  When you ask yourself what you are like off the course, it should reflect what you are like on the course.  It is important to be yourself.  Now, if you are an impatient person and you admit to it, game plan for patience.  Give yourself cues to recognize impatience and deal with it.  Not thinking about it and not planning for it won't make it go away.  Instead, it is important to understand your flaws and work to be mentally tough and overcome them.

In the end, mental toughness means that when your physical game is on, you stay out of your own way and when your physical game is off, you think well enough to salvage a good round.  Many people picture mental toughness as "grinding", but my picture of mental toughness is "looseness".  Having a great mental game allows your physical self to be free and play.  That freedom to play is the ultimate goal.
Phil Mickelson is often perceived as playing with too much freedom, but it is hard to argue with his #2 world ranking.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Using your Confidence

Yesterday, we talked about confidence and the choice you must make to embrace it.  Today, we will talk about the by-products of confidence and how to keep it.  Here is a list of the benefits of confidence that I outlined earlier this month.  How can you move past the choice of being confident and embody its benefits?

Confidence

  • understanding of game 
  • positive decision making
  • clear vision of plan
  • execution without distraction
  • ability to stay in moment
  • doesn't compare himself to others
  • can clearly verbalize wants and needs
  • has a team to rely on and keeps a small council
  • believes in himself in any situation
  • welcomes pressure

If we were robots, we could remain in a constant state of being.  Our physicality wouldn't change, our attitude would be the same each day and we wouldn't have to deal with emotions.  Often, that is what is expected of athletes.  It is hard for the arm chair quarterback to understand how a star can have a bad day.  How can a champion hang his head?  How could he throw that pass?  What happened to his decision making, his arm, his attitude, his speed, etc.?  Athletes are human and like the rest of us, their game, both physical and mental varies.  The main difference between star athletes and the rest of us is, when they have variances, the one thing that remains constant is their confidence.

We often view it as heart, that ability to fight through a tough challenge.  Other people view it as simply not giving up.  However the media frames it or we imagine it, when the game is being played, the athlete sets aside immediate results and draws on confidence.  The list above is an inventory of what their confidence gives them during tough times.

By clearly understanding the game and we will talk about the game of golf, but this is relevant for all games, a confident athlete knows that their will be challenges.  The ball will take bad bounces, he will make some bad swings, a putt might lip out, but in turn good things will happen.  A confident approach allows a player to see the balance of the game instead of focusing on the bad things that occur.  Confident golfers are never victims to fate.

Positive decision making means that a golfer chooses what he wants to happen when planning for a shot and doesn't make decisions by what he is avoiding.  This alone would be a big benefit for many amateur golfers.  To look at a tight fairway and commit to hitting a spot in the fairway instead of avoiding the trees on the right.  The commitment of making a positive decision is hugely valuable to the mental game.


Approaching a shot with a clear vision of what you want to do with it seems to be easy, but doing it consistently, especially when confused by wind, between clubs, or unsure of the break, isn't an easy chore.  If you have a good caddy on your bag, this portion of the mental game gets easier, but it is still up to the player to see the plan clearly.  Confidence helps by simply making the decision to commit to a shot, no matter the confusion in the planning process.

Distractions can disrupt focus, but it won't happen twice.  A confident player takes control of his surroundings and his situation without fear of backlash.  If a fellow competitor walks in his back swing, it is his responsibility to point it out and make sure it doesn't happen again.  Once again, confident players are not victims and they understand the responsibilities they have to themselves.  Inner distractions might be a bit tougher for a golfer, but experience along with confidence will teach a player how to handle them.  An inner distraction might be as simple as feeling unbalanced at set up.  As we said at the beginning, athletes are humans and things change daily.  A confident athlete sets it aside, focuses on what the ball does instead of how his body feels and gets through the day.  After the day, he will head to the range and figure out the balance problem to be ready for the next day.

 It is repeated so often, that is is almost cliche, "stay in the moment".  Those four words are often lauded as the key to a great day.  In the '80's we called it "the zone" and it seemed elusive.  Now, there is so much great mental training available to athletes that it is no longer mysterious, but a part of good player's arsenal.  The ability to stay in the moment is one of the biggest by-products of making the choice to believe in yourself.  It allows you to not relive past shots and not worry about what is to come.  If you believe in yourself, you gave your all on every shot you hit and if it did or didn't work out isn't important during the round.  You also understand you will be up to any challenge you face.  No one better for it than you!  Being in the moment doesn't even seem like a chore for a confident player.

Any kid growing up in a family of high achievers knows how crummy it is to be compared.  Your older sister designed the yard stick you will be measured by and your older brother's trophies seem to taunt you every day.  Good parents know that each child in the family is unique and comparisons are unneeded and even harmful.  Yet the world of athletics thrives on comparisons.  We teach using Tiger's swing on video, we compare statistics and driving distance constantly, we talk about mannerisms, tempers, and personalities.  There has to be a best way to be successful and if we could just put together the best parts of the best players, we will have the answer.  The true answer to greatness is to be completely and totally oneself whether on the course or off.  The use of comparisons jeopardizes uniqueness and uniqueness is the key to becoming the best golfer you can be.  You will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses than any other golfer on the course.  How you choose to use your strengths and minimize your weaknesses will be important to your success.  Learning to be someone else on the course abandons the idea of managing yourself and puts you in a different mode, which will quickly break down under pressure.


A confident player knows himself, his game, the best way to prepare, how to relax and how to focus.  He understands his needs and what it takes to be successful.  The next step is to live that knowledge and be able to communicate it to those around him.  It is as though he is an actor in a movie and he can design his set, write his lines, choose his costars, and direct the action.  The ability to know yourself and communicate your needs is crucial to confidence and confidence is crucial to it, too.  This ability is like getting a PhD in confidence and when it happens, things seem to get a little easier.  This doesn't mean that a great player needs to be a tyrant or a control freak about his world.  One can accomplish this by simply having a routine, such as a run in the morning no matter what the tee time.  Other players like to arrive at the course two hours before their time and create their day from there.  It is simply a matter of knowing what is important and how to make it happen.

Teamwork is important, even in an individual sport.  No man is an island and by sharing your focus with a small group of trusted individuals, you will get help, find fun and rely on support that is key to your success.  Having a team helps your confidence in many ways.  First, it frees you up from listening to a lot of people who don't really matter to you.  In the golf world, everyone has the answer and is willing to give it to you, whether or not you asked a question.  In a competitive environment, it is a bit scary to rely on untrusted sources for answers.  Second, your team will hold you accountable.  They know your goals and what it will take to reach them.  Third, your team will provide you an atmosphere of relaxation.  You can be yourself completely with them.  They are not judging you or your actions.  They are there for support.  It is so important for athletes to have safe places where they can be themselves and relax and a trusted support group can offer that.

The last two by-products of confidence are much the same.  A confident player believes in himself in any situation and welcomes pressure.  When I was playing high school softball, our coach used to hit grounders randomly to us in the infield.  Usually, when you take infield, the ball goes around the horn in order.  He would instead say, "want the ball" and then smack it hard to one of us.  That simple coaching technique has always stuck with me.  He wanted us to "want" the ball.  That translated to games.  I would find myself at first saying, "hit it to me".  That "want" turned into a focus of expectation.  I was certainly not the best fielder on our team, but by wanting the ball, I expected to get it and my focus was at its peak.  This wasn't situational, but constant.  It must be the same for golfers.  A great player must want a challenge.  He must want to be the person with a bad lie and a carry over water to hit the green to make the birdie to win the Open.  Pressure is not something that is added, but is something that is welcomed.  When there is pressure, there is a greater chance for success.  Belief in oneself must be an all-time thing and pressure is a state of mind for commentators, but not for a confident player.  When you play with confidence, you practice and embrace all of the things mentioned above.  You are in the moment, you have a clear plan, you make positive decisions and you believe in yourself.   Choosing confidence allows you to reap a bounty of mental toughness and strength.
One of my top five mentally tough athletes, Dan Gable.


Friday, January 28, 2011

got confidence?


 Milk has been running this great ad campaign for many years.  It is simple and the milk on the upper lips of the stars shows that they have been drinking their share of the stuff.  That little bit of evidence is what makes the ad work.  My question for you is, got confidence?  If so, where would I find the evidence of it?

I am pretty sure that milk alone wouldn't give Beckham a white mustache like the one above.  There was some other substance used to show us how much he loves milk.  The real proof of someone who loves milk lies in strong bones and bodies.  While Beckham clearly displays this also, the effects of milk on our health doesn't show up overtly.  Confidence is much like milk.

If I were to run an ad campaign for confidence, how would I do it?  Now this is a funny idea, but when you are coaching young people and confidence is a key to their success, this is exactly what you are doing as a coach.  Unlike milk, you cannot go into a store and buy a gallon of confidence.  It is something that must come from your heart, mind and soul.  From the outside, it is very tough to see if another person has a lot of confidence.  We don't have a little white mustache as proof.  Instead, we must look for actions that reflect confidence.

Here is the definition of confidence: 
full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed.
In order to be a successful golfer, you must trust yourself.  You must understand that you are reliable.  You must know you can succeed.  You must believe in your powers.  How do you get to that place of trust?  Do you look at past results, the preparation you put in, the technique you take to the course or do you listen to what your coach tells you?  How can you manufacture confidence?  
It is easier to talk about what doesn't provide confidence before we talk about what does.  First, the words of others might lift your spirits, but external praise isn't the key to inner confidence.  The reason for that is, praise will lift your spirits as a golfer, but it has to reflect what you believe to resonate.  We have all walked off the course after a rough round and had someone close to us praise our efforts.  While we appreciate the sentiments, we don't believe the praise.  Becoming reliant upon others opinions is ill advised for another reason.  You can never control what others think or say about you.  From others you may get criticism that is undeserved or negativity simply because you are competing against them.  

Technique seems like a good place to start for carrying confidence onto the course.  It is important, but so many situations in golf are unique and technique needs to be manipulated or shaped to fit these situations.  Solid technique is important to all successful players, but becoming dependent upon technique for confidence is a never ending cycle that takes a lot of energy.  Players who work to perfect their technique often lose sight of the goal in golf of getting the ball in the hole.  Injuries often make it tough to stay perfect over a long career, which is another reason that technique might play a role in your confidence, but your confidence can never be reliant upon your technique.

Past results seem to help build confidence and the knowledge that you have been there and been successful is certainly important.  However, are results necessary to have confidence?  It is a bit of a chicken and egg argument.  Do you need confidence to be successful?  Yes!  Do you need success to be confident?  No!  If that were the case, there would be no first time winners.  Okay, so I know that is a silly example, but success can be built on things other than previous results.  This is a very tough concept for young players to believe, but it depends on your definition of success.  A young pro might feel successful to get an exemption, make a cut or make enough money to pay for the tournament.  A veteran pro might not feel successful unless she is in the top ten at the end of the week.  It is important that results are a component of how you measure success, because focusing on the process only is missing the point of playing tournament golf. However, it is up to you and only you as a player to figure out how to measure success on a day to day, week to week and year to year basis.  By doing this, you are building confidence on what is important to you and what makes you feel good.

The final thing that seems important to confidence is preparation.  It is the most potent of the factors mentioned above, but it isn't the answer either.  There is a golf commercial on t.v. right now and in it Hunter Mahan states, "golf doesn't owe me a thing."  That is very true and often very troubling to young players.  If you spend 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year practicing golf, you are on your way to becoming a champion, right?  Maybe.  Was that time spent productively?  Were you focused on the right things when you played and practiced?  Will it translate to low scores when it matters most?  Will your time pay off?  It should, but as Mahan says, golf owes you nothing.  The work you put into the game is an investment in yourself and your skills.  The time alone won't bring you championships, but an understanding of your investment to yourself will help you have confidence when push comes to shove.  Preparation is key to becoming a champion, but it guarantees nothing.


Are you frustrated yet by this discussion?  Does it seem like I am telling you that nothing is guaranteed to give you confidence?  Well, it is true.  Confidence has to come from within.  It is a decision you make.  It is an agreement you make with yourself.  It is a choice to believe in yourself.  It is as simple as that choice and nothing else.  It is the same as unconditional love.  When you have a child, you love your child.  Sometimes your child's behavior will cause you not to like her much, but you will always love her.  Confidence is like that.  It isn't fleeting or dependent upon your last action.  Your behavior should reflect your confidence, but your confidence doesn't need to reflect your behavior.   


When it comes down to it, you must trust yourself more than anyone else in any given situation on the course and when that happens, you have the confidence it takes to be successful.  You won't have a little mustache, but you will have clear purpose.  Overall confidence comes down to that belief in yourself to hit one shot.  With the faith needed to deliver results once, you can do it over and over.  A loss of confidence happens when the focus is on results, not belief.  Behavior, not faith.  Doubt, not trust.  In order for you to build confidence in yourself, it is the same as the old adage for focus, you must do it one shot at a time.  It must come from within and there doesn't need to be a reason.  Unconditional Confidence!  Try it and you will feel a calmness that clears your head.  You will feel less angst after a mistake, knowing you did what you could.  You will plan for success instead of protecting yourself from failure.  Confidence is a choice you cannot afford to pass by.  

So, what is my ad campaign for confidence?  It needs to be for you.  It needs to connect with you.  It needs to help you find confidence at tough times.  It needs to be personal, so you can feel it in your gut and have it radiate upward and show on your face.  Can I write this ad or should you?  Obviously, if you want confidence, you need your own ad campaign.  Here is mine:

Friends, Family, and Faith are my foundation.  With this foundation, I can do whatever is needed to be successful as a teacher and coach.  My foundation gives me confidence in myself and the knowledge I can pass that confidence to others.  What is yours?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The PGA Show

Today, I really should be wandering around Demo Day at the Orange County GC.  It is a truly spectacular sight if you are a golf junkie.  There is a huge circular range with booths every 10 steps that have clubs to sell.  You can hit any club in the world almost.  Sometimes the big companies skip this opportunity, but I am not sure why they would.  It is like Sedona is for people who are into crystals and cosmic healing.  It is pure, golf energy and it is a blast to be there.  On top of having the opportunity to try so many different clubs, you also get to "run into" so many old friends and acquaintances.  This is what I love about the PGA Show.  I love the energy, I love the new things and I love the old friends. 



On Thursday, I was scheduled to answer questions from golfers around the country using facebook and twitter from 10 AM until noon.  I was pretty pumped about doing that, but hopefully they find a replacement equally as pumped.  The more solid knowledge that we can put out there about the game, the swing, scoring and having fun, the better the game of golf will be.  There is a lot of misinformation about golf and that seems to keep going, as though amateurs are playing telephone with golf tips.  Some of the questions I get on the driving range during a lesson are about coming over the top and reverse pivots.  Yes, these are moves that are bad for your golf swing, but they are generally not the root of the problem.  The fact that your buddy recognizes that you are coming over the top will usually do little to help you fix that problem.  In fact, it will usually cause you to make adjustments to that move when it isn't the primary move that needs changing.  Anyway, it is great that the PGA, along with USA Today offers this day of free hotline tips from PGA Professionals.


Once the PGA Show begins on Thursday, it is three days of hard work and three nights of a lot of fun.  The work doesn't really feel like work.  You have a lot of appointments with clothing and equipment reps to make sure your golf shop has what it needs to service your customers for the upcoming year.  You also get to attend educational meetings and learn anything there is to learn about the golf industry.  I always go to some point of sale seminars, because that isn't one of my strengths.  I also try to attend teaching seminars because I love to hear other viewpoints and get inspired by new ways of teaching and communicating.  I also spend a lot of time in the Teaching Aids area of the Orange County Convention Center.  There are toys, gadgets, computer programs, modified clubs and books all aimed at helping students learn golf more easily.  It is fun to talk to the inventors face to face and to play with the aids and figure out how you can use it with your students.  So many times, an individual will come to mind who would benefit from this aid or that aid. 


When I was young, I thought the Show was a bit intimidating.  I would walk in and out of booths without saying much and without contact.  Now I fully understand that it is important to meet people, hear about their products, ask them questions and leave them with a business card so they can follow up.  In the end, the PGA Show is a big convention center filled with golfers, dreamers, inventors and sales people.  There is a lot of great energy, a lot of great people and most of all, a shared love for the game of golf.  I will miss it this week, but I will attend many more in the future. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Technique Continued

The fundamentals of technique that all great players need continued. 

Yesterday, we talked about stability and balance.  Today we are going to cover swing plane and angles or how the club works in an efficient and powerful swing.  It is very fitting that our last topic was balance and our first today is swing plane, because I would like to relate the two and give you a new way to think about your swing plane. 

Once again, I would like you to view a swing that you would never teach to a youngster, yet is a proven winner.  Furyk  When people think of swing planes, they usually think of the old model of a piece of glass dissecting the body and swinging the club along that plane.  Above is a picture of a popular swing plane model.  If you watch Furyk's swing you have to figure that he would break the glass a few times and he doesn't come close to the model.  Here is another proven winner whose swing plane is unique:  Couples  Both of these gentlemen swing away from the plane, but drop the club into position and achieve the angles necessary to produce power.  Swing plane is a very important concept to grasp and all of us who teach the game spend a great deal of time helping our students swing the club on plane.  With that being said, I would like you to consider swing plane in a different way than the glass plane above.  Instead, I would like you to think about the balance of the club during the swing.  This is a different way of thinking about swing plane, but I learned it from the Swedes during one of the seminars with the Swedish National Coaches.  I have found that it is much easier to teach people to feel the balance of the club in their hands than it is for them to have an awareness of what is happening to the side and behind their heads to figure out if they are on plane. 

Pick up a golf club and waggle it so the toe of the club goes up and down.  There doesn't need to be swinging at this point, but I want you to feel the weight of the club.  Using a sand wedge, which is the heaviest club in your bag as far as swing weight is concerned, would be best.  Do the waggle slowly and figure out at which point the club feels heaviest and at which point the club feels lightest.  Now find the balance point in between these two positions.  Usually, the club feels the heaviest until your wrists are cocked and the lightest when it is straight up and down.  Now, do the same as you swing the club back.  Experiment by laying the club to the inside and feel the heaviness on your left hand as it supports the club with leverage.  Swing back and have the club straight up and down and you will feel almost nothing on your hands.  The club will be very light and could easily slide to the ground.  The optimum point for balancing the club is once again midway between heavy and light.  If the club is too upright, it will be too light or above plane.  If the club is too heavy in your hands, it will be below plane. 
The picture on the left shows a laid off club.  The golfer could feel the butt of his club working against his left hand if his awareness were on balance.  On the right, not only is the club off balance or too light in the golfer's hands, it is also poorly supported by his shoulders and arms and is not stable in its position. 
The other important thing to understanding the balance of the club is to think about stability, as we talked about it yesterday.  Properly supporting the club as it swings in balance will allow you to swing as quickly as possible and get maximum power from your golf swing.  I will repeat the links since you may not have read yesterday's post.  The chest needs to support the shoulders, the shoulders support the arms, the arms support the wrists, the firmness of the wrists support the club.  Each link is important and when one link fails, the lack of stability will lead the club to be off balance.  Here are some pictures of Angel Cabrera in some positions of his swing where the club is clearly balanced and is well supported by the links described above.
The club is a bit outside the line, but still clearly balanced.  Most pros swing the club head back outside the hands.
The club is pretty upright here, but still in balance and well supported.

On the downswing, the balance allows great freedom to swing.

Impact looks effortless.  Angel has great lines.

In the through swing, the club is obviously supported with a great chest turn and once again, good lines.




Now, using what you know about the balance of the club and the supportive links that provide stability, go back and watch Furyk and Freddie swing the clubs and you will see that even though their swing planes don't follow Hogan's glass plane theory, they are still in balance and able to move with speed and consistency through the golf ball.  Once again, I want to urge you to understand that all of us will swing the club a bit differently than each other.  Teaching in Vail taught me quickly that most of us are dealing with past injuries that influence our swings.  Also, our builds, flexabitily and strength levels are different.  If we strive to learn Hogan's swing plane without deviation, we might be lucky enough to master it.  However, I find that learning to swing the club in a balanced and supported way is easier for my students to grasp and a more realistic goal that leads to the same outcome of producing a powerful and consistent swing. 

I think this is enough for now and I will talk about angles the next time I blog.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.  I love to hear them!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Technique - The First Skill Set

Here are the Technique components that will need to be developed in a golfer who wants to become a great tournament player.  Each of these is a facet of the swing or of producing ball flight that will lead to consistency, control, and power.  We will talk a bit about the structure needed for each component.

  • stability
  • balance
  • swing plane
  • angles
  • impact position
  • sequence of motion
  • power/speed
  • flow
  • short game technique
  • distance and trajectory control
  • solid putting from routine to execution
Stability
Lorena with a very stable base allowing a full shoulder turn.
A golfer's lower body will be a major component of good stability in a golf swing.  The connection to the ground is important for a golfer and coupled with strength and balance, it will deliver a base from which to make powerful golf swings.  The lower bodies job is to allow the upper body to turn freely while quietly offering a bit of resistance to the turn.  This allows the muscles to stretch and prepare to fire.  Many people teach that the lower body should be quiet, but there are many great players who have a stable base that moves with the swing.  Here is a video of one that I love:  Jimenez  If you taught Jimenez to keep his feet flat and his legs still, he would lose his rhythm and flow.  He moves as gracefully as a dancer and loses no stability for his movement.  His lower body still provides a good base and good resistance to his upper body swing.  This is once again a warning to choose a coach who will allow you to be an individual.  If you have the feet of a dancer, don't allow someone to tell you to quiet them.  Use your strengths. 

The next factor of stability to look for is to have a strong frame and to use the frame and core to stay centered during the golf swing.  I have used this picture of Paul Casey before, but I love that a picture can exude strength and balance as this one does.
Good posture, wide shoulders at address and strong core muscles are the things that create the frame and keep it in place through rotation. 

The final area of stability that is important to teach is to support small muscle movements with big muscle movements.  Young players need a stable base and a strong frame to swing around, but they also need good angles and tension in the connections.  Here is what I mean by that.  Whenever you swing the club, your arms should work in relationship to your shoulders and chest.  If you swing the club without making a good turn or by lifting the club, your swing will be unstable.  Instead, the club is stable and on plane because the hands are firmly on the club, the arms stay in the shoulder joint, the shoulders rotate as the chest rotates and the biggest muscles in the body are supporting the smallest muscles in a chain of movements.  By saying there is tension in the connections, I mean that the wrists stay firm, the elbows stay firm and the arms don't lift away from the shoulders.  Here is a shot of Ernie Els perfectly supported at the top of his swing. 



Balance
Balance and stability seem to be very connected in a good golf swing.  When I talk about balance, I mean both the balance of the body as you rotate and swing and the balance of the club as you swing it on plane.  Balance is a skill that is developed and constantly improved.  When I was coaching I learned that fitness earned with balance was superior to using machines that supported the body through the lift.  Learning to balance a bar while squatting develops the balance and strengthens the body.

Balance in a golf swing is a matter of having a center at all times.  The center isn't static, but dynamic.  In martial arts, the "hara" is the center.  It is a point just below the belly button and signifies the energy of the artist as well as the center.  If you take a quick look at Ernie, you will see that he has moved to the right of the ball, but he still appears to be very centered.  If you had to put a fingertip on his center, I bet it would be a bit inside his belt buckle.  No matter what sport he was playing, he would be ready for action from this position.  Golf is just like any sport.  Great balance is a great asset.  Great balance doesn't mean a lack of movement, but instead means that movement happens gracefully.  Who do you picture when you picture balance?  An ice skater or perhaps a ballerina?  These performers know where there center is at all times and keep their bodies in line with that center.  Great balance in any athletic move including golf requires a center and strong lines supported by that center.  If a teacher wants you to be better balanced by moving less, you are on the wrong track.  The amount of movement is rarely the problem in poor balance.  Instead, it has to do with stability, having a dynamic center and using the lines of your body to support you as you move.  Tomorrow, we will talk about some of the other technique skills on the list.

    Next Step

    So, we have talked about the importance of building many skills, not just a few, to becoming a successful tournament player.  Next we talked about the importance of recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and allowing young players their uniqueness.  Now we will talk about the structure needed within the uniqueness.

    As I was writing about allowing young people to develop as individuals, you might have thought it was too loosey goosey to produce success.  Without structure, it wouldn't be a formula for success.  Structure is needed in skill building in that each skill has a focus to accomplish a task.  A swing can be uniquely yours and not produce power or consistency.  That isn't our goal.  Our goal is to produce each skill uniquely suited to the individual that makes it easier to produce the outcome, such as power.

    How do young girls create power?  Check out this video:
    Creamer and Gulbis  You would never teach a player to make a move such as this, but if you are a student of what players do to get the job done, you would understand that when these two players were little girls, they learned that they could throw themselves behind the ball to produce the most power possible for their frame.  This move is pretty common in young girls who are allowed to develop a swing and want to hit it as far as possible.

    As a teacher, the goal wouldn't be to completely change the move and keep their heads level throughout the swing, although that might seem to be an obvious first step.  If you took this approach, the golfer would lose their sequence of motion and a lot of power.  Also, it is important when teaching or coaching to understand compensatory moves.  Both ladies have a downward head move, but both offset it by going up on their toes at impact.  The toe move gives them room to swing through despite the fact that they dropped down into the shot.

    The next move the commentators talk about is where Natalie's club is at the top.  The across the line move is another very popular move for young girls.  It helps them to hold an angle on the way down to the ball despite having small or weak hands.  As I said in an earlier column, great athletes will figure out how to offset a weakness on their own and the result isn't always a pretty one.  Once again, if you decide to fix the club's position at the top of the swing, you must understand that you are going to be adjusting the angle of attack and swing plane.  The goal is to allow the player to swing the club in the most efficient way possible given her strengths.  As a teacher, you want to get the club more down the line, but you will have to spend time working on the downswing and clearing through at the same time.  If not, you will have a golfer hitting chunks, shanks and slices.

    Perfection of the swing isn't the goal, but perfection of a player's own swing is the goal.

    So what would I do with these two swings?  First, it would depend on where they were in their career and what they wanted to achieve.  Natalie works with Butch Harmon, who is a great teacher and has as much common sense as golf sense.  I was lucky to be at Butch's studio once and see the film of Natalie when he started with her at age 17.  Since then, he has stabilized Natalie's flexibility, given her better lines in her back swing and at the top and worked to get her turn through more together.  I am not an expert on her swing or Butch's work with her, so I am speaking in very general terms.  I would say Natalie is lucky to be with Butch who is using her strengths and gradually making changes that allow her her own style yet get it closer to being as good as it can be.  Natalie doesn't have perfect technique, but is she a success?  I would say yes.  Natalie is living the life she wants to live, making a very good living and progressing yearly toward her goals.  She isn't Lorena right now, but there aren't many out there who are Lorena.  Can Natalie get better?  Yes, she can as she continues to understand herself and her move and works toward better technique.  I would guess that Natalie's other skills are quite good.  Where would she rank herself on fitness, confidence, a mental game, and routine?  As a touring pro, I am certain she understands how all these things work together.

    The foundation for a young players skills are bullet pointed below:
    Technique
    • stability
    • balance
    • swing plane
    • angles
    • impact position
    • sequence of motion
    • power/speed
    • freedom/flow
    • short game techniques (a category of its own)
    • distance and trajectory control
    • solid putting from routine to execution (another category of its own)
    Confidence
    • understanding of game 
    • positive decision making
    • clear vision of plan
    • execution without distraction
    • ability to stay in moment
    • doesn't compare herself to others
    • can clearly verbalize wants and needs
    • has a team to rely on and keeps a small council
    • believes in herself in any situation
    Mental Game
    • can formulate and execute a game plan
    • can separate process from results
    • ability to stay in the moment
    • understands strengths and weaknesses and plays to strengths
    • has a developed and comfortable routine
    • routine is consistent and prepares player to execute
    • learns from mistakes
    • has a sense of momentum
    • can focus on the right thing at will
     Fitness
    • understands the importance of nutrition, rest and hydration
    • stays strong to prevent injuries, increase longevity and increase power
    • takes care of injuries or illnesses so they don't nag
    • has good cardiovascular and stability to be strong on 72nd hole
    • stays playful and youthful in approach for good body balance
    Daily Routine
    • focuses on all parts of game, including putting, chipping, bunker play, pitching, shot making, and driving the ball
    • has a plan and purpose for practice and doesn't stray from the plan
    • understands that practice cannot be all repetitive, but must include some fun, creative, competitive and realistic focus also
    • understands that health and fitness are cumulative and eats well, stays hydrated, sleeps enough and exercises
    • lives in an environment that is supportive, positive, honest and healthy
    The Most Important Skill
    • Get the ball in the hole!
      Tomorrow we will start talking about the development of these skills.

      Building Skills

      Did anyone catch the performance of Martin Kaymer this weekend?  Wow, this guy has it going on!  I love watching him.  He is big, strong, confident, focused, skilled, calm, fit, positive, methodical and successful.  He has built the skills of success.

      Yesterday, I outlined what skills are needed to build a successful game.  They are technique, confidence, a strong mental state, a fit body and a daily routine that continues to move you forward toward your goals.  Each of these is as important as the other.  Great technique as a putter will do you no good if you aren't a confident putter.  A strong mental game or game plan will do you no good if you don't have the technique needed to place the ball where you want it  By saying this, I am not letting you off the hook for developing any of the skills.  I often hear people state that they can't hit it consistently, so there is no reason to have a game plan.  That is completely the wrong approach, but we will talk about that later.  The main idea here is to understand that your skills are all important to success.


      As a successful competitor develops her game, she needs to focus on all parts of skill development.  Many times, teachers, coaches, and parents will get focused on just one of the skills and overemphasize its importance.  This is a dangerous philosophy to adopt, because when a player or her support team thinks that the answer to all her problems is to "hit more greens" or "make more putts", the other skills will often lose importance and will be lost.  A player who focuses on one aspect of her game will often lose confidence and her mental game.  Instead, as a player's skills are built, a wholistic approach is going to help the player move forward more quickly.

      With that being said, let's start talking about skill building.  After watching the Abu Dhabi tournament this morning, I saw many different golf swings that were all very good.  Kaymer is very supple and strong.  His size and gifts allow him to make a very big upper body move away from the ball.  McDowell is smaller and built lower to the ground.  His move uses more legs and body than Kaymer's.  David Lynn is a tall, lanky young man and his swing looks like a lot of elbows, but it is perfect for the length of his body.  These are just general descriptions of these gentlemen, but the point is, there is not one way to swing the golf club.  All of us are built differently.  All of us rely on different strengths and weaknesses in our bodies.  Things like the TPI program are great to let players know what those strengths and weaknesses are, but the most important thing is that the weaknesses don't become the focus.  Great players learn to overcome any weakness.  Most figure it out on their own, without the aid of a teacher.  When teachers or coaches start focusing on weaknesses, body differences, different levels of suppleness or stability, they are in the wrong frame of mind.  What is important is to use the knowledge to understand why a player makes a certain move and to further develop that move to increase the players strength.

      When a player is young and developing, it seems very feasible that she should be able to "perfect" a swing.  She could model a great player like Annika or Lorena and develop a similar move that produces power and consistency.  With the use of computers and swing analysis, young players work to put themselves into "positions" like their favorite star.  This is a mistake for most young players.  Developing a swing unique to yourself, based on your strengths, your flexibility, your stability and your size would be far more beneficial.  As that swing is developed a good teacher would assist by keeping the club on plane and the face square  The teacher would make sure the swing was in sequence and flowing.  The teacher would make sure that the student got the maximum amount of speed and power from the move.  With this approach, a player will have a life long move that fits and is easier to maintain than a swing based on others techniques.

      I found a great youtube video showing the two swings and the uniqueness of both:
      Link to video 

      Did you know that Lorena played volleyball, basketball, swam, ran track, played tennis and climbed as a young person?  She was a well-developed all-around athlete who played golf from the age of five.  She climbed major peaks and noted how that aided her mental game.  She learned to push herself and to be uncomfortable yet focused.  Annika skied, played tennis, volleyball and badminton.  Annika didn't focus on golf full time until she was 16 and was ranked as high as #12 in tennis in Sweden.  Neither girl grew up with a singular focus to develop a golf swing to be the best in the world.  They both grew up as all around athletes who loved to play games and compete.  When they focused on golf and being the best in the world, they both worked to have a flawless swing, but neither copied another.  Instead, they had great guidance and owned their unique techniques.  There is so much wisdom in this approach, yet so many of our young players are coached to copy golfers like Tiger or Wie.

      I guess the point I am making is, make sure as you work toward greatness that you recognize greatness is unique.  Great artists are not copying Monets.  Great opera singers don't try to sound like Pavarotti.  Great golfers should not be copying anyone either.   They should revel in their own strengths, techniques and abilities.  Only then will they be as great as they can possibly become.

      Saturday, January 22, 2011

      Thoughts on Coaching

      As many of you know, I am laid up for at least 30 days.  I have a lot of time to think about things and to be inspired about ideas.  I hope that my inspiration will lead to some good, solid writing about golf and coaching.  I am also taking a lot of pain killers right now, so I would suspect that there will be a lot of editing in the future when I "sober" up.  I am not going to make any goals about writing, because my one and only goal right now is to do what Dr G. tells me and heal as well as possible.  I am 3 days in and what needs to happen is that my calf muscle (gastrocnemius) will reattach to my femur where I ripped it off when I hyperextended.  That is where my visualization and mental powers and prayers are going right now.

      Enough of that, because I got online today to write about coaching.

      Golf coaches are teachers, but their primary role is often that of a manager.  If you are coaching golf at the high school or college level, your player generally has a teacher.  Sometimes your player has a strength coach, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist or a parent who does all of these things.  Most golfers reach the highest levels of competition because they have an incredible support staff who understand and see to their needs. 

      As a coach or manager of a player who wants success, how can you help her achieve that success? That is the question that I would love to explore.

      As a youngster or in the beginning stages, the process is to build.  A successful athlete must have highly tuned technique, great confidence, a strong mental state of mind, a fit body and a routine or life style that keeps all these things going forward.  I didn't mention talent, athleticism, heart or other intangibles.  These things can't be measured or produced and while we would all love to say our student is a marvelous athlete or plays with a lot of heart, the building of skills and the things listed above is our focus as coaches.  As we build, we teach.  If skills were learned incorrectly, they must be learned in a new way.  Be wary of a coach who wants to "fix" a player.  That coach is using a model of perfection and mechanics.  Instead, remember that a player is never broken, but that foundations need to be strong.  If a player who is working toward high, long-term goals has shaky technique or fitness, the coach's job is to help the player build the technique that will allow success.  Nothing is built from the top down or the outside in, including a successful golfer.

      As a player progresses and matures, it will be important for her to know as much as possible about herself, her game, her swing, her body and her approach.  This flies in the face of the huge support team we talked about earlier, who up until now have seen it as their role to know all they could about the player.  Golfers, like many young athletes, have been coaxed to the top of their game through many well meaning and caring individuals.  The golfers' love of the game, the competition, the repetition and the pursuit of excellence is the basis for building success, but the team that is around the player is important, too. That is how it works in most sports and also in music and any pursuit that is tough and competitive.  However, there comes a time though, that the young person has to step through that shell of helpers and take responsibility for herself.  This can be a painful time for parents, teachers and coaches.  However, it is an important step for the athlete herself.

      Any player focused on reaching for success needs to understand that success isn't a holy grail.  It isn't something that you search for all your life and hope to one day find.  Instead, success is achieved at every level and built upon.  Success can even be achieved outside the realm of competition at times when an athlete overcomes obstacles, such as injuries or setbacks.  Success is as much a part of the process as failure is and neither is an end point.  If success isn't recognized along the way, the game will become a chore and there won't be enough joy to sustain the efforts needed.  How an athlete makes and evaluates goals is important to seeing success in the process and not as an end point.  There will always be a higher plateau to reach and if a player measures herself against what she doesn't achieve, she will not be building the confidence needed to get to the highest levels of the sport.

      As we build technique, confidence, a mental game, fitness and routines, it is the golfers role to understand the process and even lead it when they reach a maturity level that allows them to know themselves well enough.  That process is never ending and is the key to reaching long-term goals.  When a player earns her tour card, she will then want to win on tour.  When she wins, she will want to win majors.  With a few majors will come the desire to be on the Solheim Cup.  The desire for more goals is usually present in driven athletes and the understanding that the skills needed are built over a life time is an important concept to develop if these goals will be reached.  As a coach, it is very important to allow a player to be comfortable at a level reached before pushing them to the next level.  This is a hugely important factor in coaching that is often overlooked.

      If a golfer is to develop confidence, she needs to get to a level of competition that is uncomfortable for her and work her way to the top of that level.  There will be successes and failures as she works her way through the competition, but the lessons learned are crucial.  For example, a golfer is the #1 player on her high school team.  She dominates her teammates.  That is a step.  Now, she needs to figure out how to dominate local high school competition.  There will be "big dogs" to knock off and there will be some unpleasantness along the way.  Learning to play without intimidation at every level is a process that must be experienced by the player.  It is sometimes easier for younger players, because they are simply clueless to what they are doing and who they are beating.  Regardless, it is an important step to success.

      Once a player dominates at the local level, she can move to the state level.  This process is really never ending.  There is always someone, somewhere, who can outplay you.  Without that idea, the struggle for improvement isn't important. 

      Tomorrow we will talk about the building process.

      Friday, January 14, 2011

      SCORE!

      Imagine if every time you holed out, you got the same excitement as this soccer announcer following an incredible goal by Ronaldinho.  Check it out!  You are on the green, lining up a  50 footer and when you roll it in, Johnny Miller yells for 20 seconds.  That would be cool.  Of course, golf isn't like that, but we need to have that same excitement inside and also that same goal of putting the ball in the hole with every shot. 

      One of the first things you notice when you coach great players is that they give most shots they hit a chance to go in.  If they are within a reachable distance of the hole and strategy doesn't force them to stay under the hole or to one side of it, they will usually get the ball to the hole.  This belief system is one of confidence and vision and is the first step to shooting a low number. 


      Another thing that great players do to consistently shoot low scores is play with a plan.  They understand that a golf course is like a chess board and they are always a few moves ahead.  On the tee of a par 5, they are clear with where the pin is, what club they want to use to get to the pin, what direction will give them the best target and what strength they will play to on that hole.  Can you remember the year that Zach Johnson won the Masters?  Here is one of his quotes following the win:

           "I think I'm mentally tough," said Johnson, who entered the tournament ranked 56th in the world. "I don't hit it very far, I don't overpower a golf course, but I think I'm a pretty decent putter. At Augusta National, putting is premium."

      Zach knows one of his strengths is his putter.  Another is his mental toughness.  Both came into play that last day when Zach was tough enough to stick to a game plan that didn't include "going for it", but instead had him hitting wedges into the par 5's.  After the wedges came the putter and the birdies.  In fact, Johnson was -11 on par 5's even though he didn't go for any of them in two shots.

      Yet another factor in scoring is to place faith in your ability to recover from anything.  Great players may chili dip a wedge, but most will follow the chili dip with a stiff shot next to the hole.  They don't allow themselves to think about poor results, but instead stay in the scoring mode and often even turn it up a notch.  Mistakes will happen, but great players don't let them multiply.  They don't try to make up for their mistakes by adding pressure or becoming more aggressive.  They also don't dwell on mistakes by mentally replaying it in their heads.  They move on.  They stick to their game plans.  They play the shot that is in front of them with no added drama from the past.  Scoring cannot be robotic, because we want mental toughness and I don't picture that from a robotic player.  However, scoring cannot be a drama, either.  Emotion is there to help great players and they use it to channel positive energy into their games.  If you have faith that you can recover from any bad shot, bad break or bad bounce, you will be coaching yourself with positive energy. 

      Next time you are on the golf course, take these three strategies with you to become a more consistent low scorer.  First, get the ball to the hole and give yourself a chance to make every shot possible. Second, have a plan and know your strengths, and finally, have faith in yourself and channel positive emotional energy as you play the game. 

      Wednesday, January 12, 2011

      Splash or Blast

      To splash or blast, that is today's question.  There are two ways that I teach bunker shots, whether you are a pro or a beginner.  The first is the splash.  I learned this shot from watching Leadbetter's guys out on tour in the 90's.  I noticed that they set up to bunker shots differently than I was taught.  They took a very wide stance with the ball more centered than in the front of the stance.  I had always been taught to have a narrow, open stance with the ball forward.  When I copied what Leadbetter's students were doing, I found it was an easier way to hit certain bunker shots or in certain types of sand. Before I get into the two types of shots, here are three principles that are important to hitting any bunker shot.

      1.  Your sand wedge is built so that the lowest point on the club is the bottom of the bounce, not the leading edge.  If you picture a duck gliding to a stop on a lake, the duck's toes will be pulled back and it will use the surface on the bottom of its foot to glide to a stop.  If its toes lead, the duck would go face first and have a very rough landing.  Your sand wedge should glide in the same manner.


      2.  You need to understand that when you hit bunker shots, you are throwing the ball out on a cushion of sand.  In order to gather the proper amount of sand to get the ball out consistently, you need to set up with your center slightly behind the ball so your club bottoms out about an inch behind the ball. Think of your ball as the genie in this picture and the sand is your magic carpet. 



      Third, sand is heavy, so you can't swing slowly and expect to move it very far.  Your swing needs to have some zip into the follow through or the sand and your ball will remain in the bunker. Here is what a good bunker shot will look like.




      Pictured is Charl Schwartzel.   The sand is under the ball and lifting it out as he swings through the shot.

      Back to the original question of splash or blast?  A splash shot is great to use if you don't generate a lot of club head speed, because you will be moving less sand.  Even if you do generate a lot of speed, it will be good to use when the sand is firm or wet, when the ball needs to travel only a short distance to the hole or when their isn't too much of a lip.  Blast shots are a bit easier to throw high in the air for most people and are good when the sand is soft, your lie isn't perfect or you need the ball to spin when it hits.

      When you set up for your splash shot, widen your stance and keep your weight centered.  You will not need to use a lot of leg or hip motion for this shot.  Picture yourself skipping stones and think about how your dominant hand swings in a gentle U motion.  Now put your hands on the club and make the same gentle U motion and splash the sand out of the bunker.  Your upper body will make a turn back and away, but once again, keep your legs quiet.  You won't take a lot of sand out of the bunker because your club is making a wide, shallow swing through the sand.  When you are holding your finish, your center should be over your front heel to make sure you have enough momentum to get the sand and ball out of the bunker.

      To hit a blast shot, you want to set up with a normal stance that is slightly open to your target line.  The reason you want a slightly open stance is to swing along the same line, which will give you a steep approach and guarantee that you hit the sand.  Most people I see for bunker lessons have overdone the open stance and are facing so far left of the target that they force themselves to swing away from their body.  This produces a very shallow swing and is one reason many of us zing the ball across the green without touching the sand.  Once again, you want your center or sternum a bit behind the ball to assure that your club enters the sand before it hits the ball.  When you hit a blast shot, you are taking a steeper approach, so your club will make a thumping sound when it hits the sand and it will gather and move more sand.  Instead of that thin magic carpet pictured above, your ball, like the characters here, will ride out of the bunker on a pillow of sand.
      With that in mind, make sure you swing through the ball and make a full finish.  How you throw the sand will determine how the ball flies.  If you keep your club face open as you swing through, you will throw the sand under the ball and the ball will fly high and probably have a little back spin.  If you follow through low and release the club, you will be throwing sand over the top of the ball and it will fly lower and probably roll out instead of checking.

      I hope this helps you understand that there is more than one way to hit bunker shots.  Next time you get into the bunker, spend some time experimenting and figure out which is best for you.  The better you get at both shots, the more options you will have when faced with a tough shot.

      Tuesday, January 11, 2011

      Your Grip is Personal

      Your hands are your only connection to the golf club.  What that means to you is, your grip should allow you to cock and release the club, create maximum club head speed and control the club face to produce the shot you want to hit.  In other words, your hands should be in control of the movement of the club.

      While that opening statement seems obvious, I have seen many golfers with an ineffective grip that will start the club swinging, but soon the club is in control instead of the golfer.  How could the club be in control?  Simple, momentum gets powered from the club's head instead of the club's handle.  Many call this casting or an early release.

      Everyone who plays the game has a unique hand.  My hands are long in the palm.  Many women have small hands or short fingers.  I have also taught men who were 6'6" and had hands like paws.  With that in mind, there is no one grip that we should all put on the club.  Here are two pictures of tour player's grips.  The top picture is Freddy Couples, who has a strong grip with a cupped left hand.  The bottom is Paul Casey, whose grip is more neutral with a flatter left hand and wrist.  Both players have great control and great distance off the tee.  

      If your grip is unique to you, how do you know if you are gripping it correctly?  Here are some ways to figure out if you have a good grip that allows you to produce great golf shots.

      1.  Is your grip on the club exactly the same after you hit a shot as it is before?  If not, did your hands twist or move on the handle?  Take some time and feel exactly where the club lies in your left hand prior to hitting the shot and then check closely to see if it there when you are finished.  Golfers whose handle moves while swinging will often have a lot of wear on their gloves.

      2.  Can you cock your wrists with relaxed arms and get the club head from the ground to in front of your nose easily?  Often, this simple test fails people and they find that they cannot break their wrists, but must lift the club by bending their elbows.

      3.  Can you take a half swing and stop the club easily at any point in your through swing?  In other words, do you have control of the club at all points in your swing?  Golfers with an early release often end up with the club down their back and when asked to stop their swing earlier, they cannot.

      4.  Finally, can you relate your hands to the club head?  In order to control the club and hit shots, you must know where the club head is in relation to your hands.  If you don't maintain a firm grip on the club through impact, you will not be able to relate to its movements.

      What do good grips look like?  First, the palms generally match up.  In other words, if your right hand is strong, like Freddy's, your left hand will also be strong and a bit cupped.  If your right hand is strong and your left is weak, one hand or the other will have to be in charge at every point of the swing instead of working together.

      Next, your grip needs to create leverage even before you cock your wrists.  By this I mean that your club's shaft shouldn't be set up matching the angle of your forearms.  If the shaft of your club is too parallel to your fingers, you will not easily create a wrist cock.  You can also get the club too deep in your hands and create too much angle between the shaft and your forearms.  I see this most often in golfers with a deep interlocking grip.  A deep, interlocking grip reminds me of how you would grab a rope in a tug of war.  You are grabbing for strength and stability, but not wrist cock or speed.  Now think of how you would grab a fishing pole and cast a line into the middle of the lake.  The pole would be more toward the fingers than it was in the tug of war.

      One tip that helped me a lot when I was learning was, hang on a bit tighter with your pinkie and ring finger on the top hand and the middle finger and ring finger of the bottom hand.  As I learned how to teach, I understood that the two fingers on the top hand control the handle and rotation of the club while the two fingers on the bottom hand are crucial for holding your angle on the way to impact. 

      Think about how you hang on to the handle of the golf club and if you are truly in control.  If not, go see your local PGA or LPGA Professional and have a conversation about your grip.

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