Saturday, March 26, 2011

More Trouble - Bare Lies and Fairway Bunkers

The last blog talked about hitting from deep rough.  To be effective, you need a steep angle of attack, to keep from catching too much grass behind the ball.  Today, we will talk about hitting from bare lies or from fairway bunkers.  With nothing behind the ball, you will no longer need a steep attack, you now need a shallow or sweeping swing to catch the ball cleanly on the downswing. 



Many people dislike having the ball flat on the ground with no grass propping it up.  This type of lie requires you to hit the ball on the down swing and the golfer who is uncomfortable with this lie probably normally hits the ball a bit on the upswing.  If this lie isn't your favorite, here are some things you can do to make it easier to hit a good shot. 
  • Move the ball back in your stance an inch or two.  This will help you catch it before you hit the ground.  
  • Put more weight on your front foot at set up and use less leg action throughout this swing.  This will keep you more centered and steady over the ball.  
  • Take a short, smooth back swing instead of swinging fully.  Many golfers who hit the ball on the upswing release early, often in their transition.  By shortening your swing, your hands should be less active and you stand less of a chance of an early release of the club. 



One thing that you often hear is to grip down on your club to hit these shots.  The problem with gripping down on the club is you shorten it which in turn changes your posture.  A shorter club causes a more upright and steeper swing.  A steeper swing might be needed if you are hitting from a fairway bunker and the lip of the bunker threatens you.  It would also be needed if the bottom of the ball is below the surface, such as in soft sand or in pine straw.  However, for most bare lies, you want to sweep the ball from the earth, not hit down into the ground. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trouble Shots - Deep Rough

It is the time of year when the rough is starting to grow and soon, your wayward shots will be nestled deep in the grass.  Here are the things you need to do to hit good shots from the rough.

The Deep Stuff!


First, your angle of attack is very important.  If you have a steep angle of attack, you will not catch too much grass before you hit the ball.  If your attack is shallow, your club will have to fight through the deep grass and you will lose power and also some accuracy.  The easiest way to accomplish a steep attack is to set up to the ball with an open stance and a slightly open club face.  Once you set up in this way, remember to swing along your set up lines and not down the target line.  This will give you an out to in swing path.  This swing path might take away some of your power, but it will be better to give up a little distance than to fight through the rough.  You might be tempted to take more club to get more distance, but remember the adage, "loft is your friend in the rough"!  There a lot of reasons for this adage.  First, lofted clubs are shorter and will swing on a steeper plane by design.  Second, your goal is to get the ball up and out, which is the picture you should have in mind when you step up to a shot in the deep rough.  Low lofted clubs will often drive the ball directly into the rough in front of the ball and take away distance, direction and the opportunity to play your next shot from the short stuff.

Next, you should think about your swing differently when in the rough.  When hitting from the tee or the fairway, you will have smooth acceleration from the top through to the finish.  The club will be released at the bottom of your swing with extension through to your finish.  In the rough, you want to take a firmer grip on the club and accelerate to the ball, but not necessarily release through the shot or try to make a full finish.  This is because you need more energy going down instead of through as in a regular swing.  When hitting long shots from the rough, your finish will be less than full, with the handle leading the club head through the shot a bit more than normal.   Leading with your handle will give you strength as you swing down and through the ball. 

When hitting shorter shots from the rough, I have seen some of the greats take a firm grip, but still manage to release the club with very little through swing.  The openness of your set up and short club choice will create the downward motion needed to get the ball out and by allowing the club head to release a bit, you can still get some height on the shot.  Even though you are releasing the club, remember to keep the club moving down through impact.  

Rory McIlroy in deep greenside rough   Check out this link to Rory in a practice round practicing from the deep rough.  You can clearly see the "down" motion of the club and also the release he makes to get height on the shot.

Finally, remember that your club is doing the work when you are in the rough.  If you try to help the club by scooping or getting behind the ball in the downswing, you will release the club too soon and catch too much grass.  It is crucial to keep your weight moving to or even anchored on the front foot if you want your swing to have a lot of "down" in it.  Most of the work in the rough happens in the downswing, not in your finish.  By not making a full finish, it will be easier to keep your weight on the front foot.  If your focus is on making a full swing from the rough, you will inevitably fight through the rough and end up watching your shot from the back foot.  By the way, it will not be a good shot.

These three strategies should help you get the ball out of deep rough more easily.  They are to set up a bit open with both your stance and club, focus the swing's energy down instead of through and stay anchored on your front foot as you make the swing.  The other little things I mentioned such as "loft is your friend" are tough to take when it seems taking more club will be the key to getting you to the green, but in the long run they will save you strokes.  You can usually practice from the rough if you go to the far side of any range.  A little practice will teach you a lot!  Good luck next time you are in the thick stuff!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Decision Making on the Golf Course

How many decisions do you make in a round of golf?  I would guess the answer is thousands.  Does that sound like a lot of decisions to you?  Well, let's think about the first hole and what you will decide.
What club should I hit?  Where should I aim?  How high should I tee up the ball?  How many practice swings should I take?  Should I retie my shoe?  Should I take off my jacket?  How should the ball face on the tee?  What should I do in my pre-shot routine?  How long should it take?  Am I focused?  If not, should I step off?  Should I acknowledge my playing partner's compliment?  Should I chat a bit as we walk down the fairway?  How much should I tell him?  Is he going to talk all day?  Perhaps I should walk more quickly...  Should I carry my bag on my right or left shoulder?  Should I check my hole location sheet?  Should I walk off the yardage from this sprinkler head?  Whew, I think you got the point.  There are indeed thousands of decisions to be made during a round of golf.  Which ones are you conscious of and which decisions are unconscious?

Decisions such as how high you tee your ball or what you do in your pre-shot routine are probably based on practice, trial and error, previous experiences, what you see the pros do and what you read in last month's Golf Digest.  They are for the most part unconscious decisions that you make during a round of golf and based largely on your experiences.  Are they important?  Yes, all decisions you make add up to either a good or bad day on the golf course.  Conscious decisions are ones such as what club to hit from 155 yards into the wind and uphill.  Is there any difference between putting your ball on a tee at a particular height and choosing a 6 iron to hit the shot described?  Probably less than you think.



In David Brook's book, The Social Animal:  The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, he talks about how much information we take into the brain in a minute time period.  It is estimated to be about 11 million pieces of information.  However, we are conscience of only 40 or so.  If this is the case, what leads our decision making on the golf course?  Is it the 40 things we choose to be conscious of or the millions of things that we are taking in just below our awareness?  I would say both, but is it possible to control what we become conscious of?  For example, if our playing partner is making a lot of long putts, can we consciously decide how we will react to it or is it an unconscious reaction?

One of my primary coaching philosophies is to learn to "act" as you want to on the course instead of "reacting".  It is a way of thinking that is active and attuned to things on the course that are realistic, in step with your game plan and goals and will help you focus on executing.  If we do indeed take in 11 million pieces of information in a minute as science believes, how do we decide what we will be conscious of and what effect does the other information have on us and our game?  Check out this quote from Mr. Brooks book,

"The key to a well-lived life is to have trained the emotions to send the right signals and to be sensitive to their subtle calls."  David Brooks








Check out the faces of Bubba.  Has Bubba figured out what makes him great?  It is definitely a process that the best in the world have a good grip on.  One of my favorite players on the LPGA Tour, Angela Stanford, shows her great smile as often on the course as she does off the course.  Her emotions seem to have a basis in happiness and humor and she has figured out how to use those emotions to play well on the course.  She celebrates after good shots and laughs off her poor shots.






In his book, Brooks talks about the importance of emotion in making decisions.  It has been found that people who feel no emotion, usually due to a brain injury, are almost incapable of making even the simplest of decisions.  We can try to set emotions aside, but that isn't how we as humans are wired.  Instead, the emotions are what make us capable of seeming to be reasonable or logical.  In fact, we are all basing our decisions on these millions of things that we see, feel, hear, touch and in turn process unconsciously.  Here is another quote on the subject, also from The Social Animal:

"All information processing is emotional, in that emotion is the energy that drives, organizes, amplifies and attenuates cognitive activity and in turn is the experience and expression of this activity."  Kenneth Dodge

Have you been paired with someone with whom you love to play?  His attitude, body language and way of playing seems to relax you.  On the other hand, how do you feel when you are paired with one of those golfers you can't stand?  He complains about everything, thinks your shots are lucky while his are unlucky and his pace is slow due to the drama he revels in after every shot.  Do either of these playing partners have an effect on your emotions, your decisions and ultimately your score?  Probably, unless you have made a determined effort to decide what you will be conscious of and how you will channel your emotions throughout the day.  Both scenarios could be harmful or helpful.  Imagine that you're so happy with your playing partner that you relax a bit much and enjoy his presence to the point of losing focus.  Or, you are paired with the complainer and get so irritated that you lose your patience with him, yourself and your game.  In either case, it will be up to you to process what is happening in a realistic manner that allows you to channel the same emotions you tap into when you play great golf.

How do you do that, especially if so much of what we take in is unconscious?  First, it is important to decide before a round how you will "act".  Part of your game plan should include your focus points, the emotions you will acknowledge and how much energy you will give to your decisions and shotmaking.  Here is an example:

"Today, I am going to keep it simple on the course.  My goal on each shot will be to choose a conservative target and be aggressive to that target.  If I execute a good shot, I will give it a fist pump and a smile.  If I hit a poor shot, I will put the club in the bag right away and walk quickly until I let it go.  I will let it go before I get close to my next pre-shot routine.  I am going to connect with each shot I hit by seeing it clearly before I hit it and committing fully to that vision.  If I am in trouble, I will go through the same process, remembering to pick a conservative target and being aggressive to it.  I will see it and commit to it, just as I do in the fairway.  I am going to play at my own pace today and keep my rhythm quick and smooth.  If I have a slow playing partner, I will continue to walk quickly to help me keep my pace.  I plan to have the same pace of walking, pre shot and swing from the 1st hole to the 18th hole."


This is a script of a player who knows what he needs as far as making decisions and keeping his rhythm.  Those are his two points of focus.  He also plans his reactions to both good and bad shots.  By doing so, he gives himself a way to release emotions that might get in the way of his decision making on the shot after a great or poor one.  I have seen as many players lose a round of golf from being too pumped or too confident after a great shot as I have from players who lose their focus after a poor shot.  Emotion of any sort needs to have a ground.



If you believe that this type of a script will cause you to be robotic or "not yourself" you need to understand that we are our behavior, not our thoughts.  To be natural and to be yourself on the course is and should be your goal.  That is exactly why you make these decisions prior to your round.  I am not telling you to act in any way but the way you decide.  If you play your best with a little anger, then figure out how to get a little angry.  If you play your best in a calm, happy mood, you better get calm and happy out there.

Here are some questions to ask yourself?  How do you act when you are playing great golf?  How do you make decisions?  How emotional are you?  What is your rhythm like on those days?  Do your playing partners have an effect on you when you are in your zone?  Does your game plan remain constant?  Does your confidence waver?  These are the questions you need to ask yourself if you want to turn an occasional great round into a career of great rounds.  When you play great and things seem easy, what are your emotions telling you?  Where is your energy?  Where is your focus?  Answer these questions as quickly and as intuitively as possible. Don't think about it, just spout out the first thing that comes to you.  These answers are who you are when you are at your best on the course.  Use the answers to script a mental game plan and see how it works.  This will give you an active approach to your on course character instead of a reactive or susceptible character reliant upon good pairings or good bounces.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evaluate Your Golf Game

I just got off the phone with a friend and our conversation was centered around her golf game and more importantly her scoring following a tournament.  It is close to impossible to coach from afar, because coaching is a very situational skill.  It is based on not just physical shots, but body language, decision making, game plans and so much other stuff you can't see from afar.  As I thought about it, I decided that a Coaching Inventory would help me coach my students scattered around the country.  Better yet, it will help you coach yourself to become a better player.

If I know young people, I better make this inventory both relevant and brief if I want it to be used in earnest.  It will also require honesty on the player's part if it is truly going to help your game.  So here goes.  If you have feedback on how I can make this inventory better, please let me know.  Is there anything unneeded or anything you don't see that would help you evaluate your game?  Feel free to take it and email your results to me at jmsuds@gmail.com and I will give you some thoughts on how to improve areas.  It is important that you go into this with an open mind.  If you think you are great off the tee, you might be right, but then again, you might have unwarranted confidence.

All answers are on a scale of 1-10, with ten being the best and one being the worst.  Think Bo Derek.  For you young kids, look it up on Wikipedia!

Golf Game Evaluation

All questions are answered on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst.  Take the test quickly using your first instinct for each rating.  There are 49 physical ratings and 23 golf character ratings.  You can use it after a round, a tournament or a season to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to focus on to grow as a player.

  • Physical Game 
Driver   
    Length
    Direction Control/Spin
    Overall Confidence
        Confidence w/trouble right
        Confidence w/trouble left
Fairway Woods
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Lie Management
        (note any problem lies ie.: rough, uphill, bare, etc)
    Confidence
Hybrids
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Lie Management
    Confidence
Long and Mid Irons (3-6)
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Lie Management
    Confidence
Short Irons (7-9)
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Trajectory Control
    Lie Management
    Confidence
Trouble Shots
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Decision Making
    Confidence
Wedges
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Trajectory Control
    Lie Management
    Confidence
Bunker Play
    Lie Management
    Distance Control
    Direction Control/Spin
    Confidence
Pitching (w/in 50 yards)
    Distance/Trajectory Control
    Direction Control
    Confidence
Chipping
    Ability to land it where I want
    Predicted shots roll and speed
    Left myself short putts
Putting
    Started the ball on the line chosen
    Controlled my pace well
    Read the greens well and chose the right targets
    Made my short putts
    Gave myself a chance to make long putts and left short second putts
Physical
    Kept myself hydrated and energized with food
    Had the physical energy to finish as strong as I started
    Protected myself from sun, wind and rain

  • Golf Character 
Game Plan
    Had a plan for each hole
    Followed my plan to the best of my ability
Preparation
    Stepped on first tee ready to play
    I had all the equipment needed for success today
    I had the food and water I needed to fuel success
Pre Shot Routine
    Visualized my shots well
    Aimed well
    Focused throughout and executed
Post Shot Routine
    Anchored good shots
    Accepted mistakes
    Kept emotions working for me, not against me
Decision Making
    Made good decisions
    Committed to my decisions until execution
    Based my decisions on what I wanted, not what I was avoiding
    Chose shots I knew I could hit well
    Made decisions based on where I stood, not based on how I got there
Focus
    Focused when I needed to and relaxed between shots
    Kept my focus on what I could control
    Left worry, doubt and fear in the car
    Focused equally on every shot - my “try-level” was consistent
Emotional Control
    Controlled both highs and lows
    Motivated myself with the voice in my head and didn’t trash talk myself
    Never gave up on myself or my game

Will Golf Survive or Better Yet, Will it Flourish?

According to Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, the human mind can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given moment.  The estimate is that we can be aware of only forty of these.  What does this mean to you as a golfer?  The information you take in unconsciously guides your emotions, your intuition, your instincts and of course, your conscious thoughts and decisions.

If you learned golf by spending hours hitting balls, rolling putts and walking around the course, you have probably spent time "lost" in the game.  The joy is in the process, in the learning, in the sunshine, in the camaraderie, in the smell of the grass, in the feel of an effortless drive, in the moment before a long putt falls and in the countless other sights, sounds, and feelings you have on the golf course.  You naturally form relationships with not just your playing partners, but also with trees, putters and clouds.  You completely belong in the world that is the golf course.

What if you started playing golf at age 40?  You probably don't have that limitless time that kids have to hone your skills.  You are self conscious about your swing and your actions on the course.  Everyone you play with seems to be better than you and speaks a different language than you do.  Things feel foreign and everything you see can be described as a hazard.  You have no place in this new world of golf.

From a golf professional's point of view, in order to grow the game, we have to get the unconscious thoughts of beginner's minds to take in things such as acceptance, familiarity, security, joy, peace, sunshine, warmth and fun.  If we plan to keep people playing the game, we have to develop an atmosphere of the ideas listed above as well as ideas such as family, relaxation, fitness, nature, success, connection and relationships.

Golf is a very old and well established game.  Here are some of the ideas that people, especially young people carry with them, both consciously and subconsciously:  golf is costly, time consuming, elitist, not extreme or fast moving, too hard, stuffy, old and will be there when I am 60.

Those of us who play golf and love the game understand that the challenge of hitting shots is intoxicating.  We get that what looks slow from the outside feels pretty fast when you are playing.  All hobbies are costly, but the cost for the time spent golfing can be economical.  Golf is hard, but that is what makes learning fun.  There is a lot we can do to offset all of these ideas and we should begin right away. 

What makes golf stuffy?  Lots and lots of rules.  Dress codes.  Marshals on the course.  Intimidation by better players.

What makes golf time consuming?  No choice in the amount of time spent.  It is either a two or four hour commitment which can lengthen if the pace of play is poor.  Distractions such as phones on the course.  Poor play.  Poor time management on the golf course.

What makes golf hard?  Lack of good or affordable lessons.  Lack of knowledge about the game, the swing and the equipment.  Lack of mentorship for new players.

What makes golf expensive?  The standards for turf conditions create large maintenance budgets.  The need for great service create large staffing budgets.  The need for large amounts of real estate.  The clientele has demanded better technology in equipment.

Could we grow the game if we offered choices for time commitments, as resort courses in Hawaii have done?  Can we offer the game with fewer rules for beginners as is proposed by the Alternative Golf Association with the game of Flogton?  Check it out here:  Flogton  Can we simply quit being stuffy by allowing jeans and tee shirts?  Can we create relationships and mentoring instead of divisions of players?

I came from the world of competitive golf to the world of pay for play golf.  I strongly hung on to what I believed was the essence of the game; strict adherence to the rules, competition, seriousness and excellence.  The longer I am in the golf business, the more I believe we have to grow, change, refocus and morph into a game that gives new players the vibes that I spoke of above.  We have to shape golfers' experiences on purpose in a positive way instead of continuing to allow the traditions of the game to shape them negatively.  Otherwise, we will soon be out of careers in the golf business.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Swing the Club

Over the years I had the chance to watch some great teachers teach.  Among them, Dick Harmon, Charlie Epps, and Jackie Burke.  Each time I watched them, I walked away with a clear sense of the importance of club face control.  From them I learned that great players have great control of the club and that control begins with great hands.  Today, we are going to talk about controlling the club and the club face as you swing.
Dick Harmon knew the golf swing and he knew how to connect with his students.  I still value every moment I got to spend around him, whether on the lesson tee or just talking.  He taught me a lot!


It might seem obvious that a good player would need to control the club and more specifically the club face.  However, I have been watching a lot of teachers on television, on youtube and through reading and I hear a lot of people talking about shaft plane, shoulder plane and other various positions in the swing.  I won't say that these positions aren't important, because they are, but I think golfers lose track of what should be the most important thing they control and that is the club and the club face.

If you can learn to square the club face at impact, you can start the ball on line.  If you can learn to control the relationship of the club face and the shaft, you can control trajectory.  If you can learn to create an angle and release it into the ball, you can control speed or distance.  These three skills are the essence of golf.  In order to master these skills, you must think of your club as a tool that you need to learn to master.  The focus will shift from being on you and your body to the device you hold.  Better yet, lets move our focus to the ball.  Where do we want the ball to go?  How can we make that happen with the tool we hold?  This might seem too simple, but let's compare your golf club to other tools that you use.

Imagine that you are a cabinet maker.  Your first step is to envision the cabinet you want to build.  You will then use your tools to cut and shape the pieces needed and then construct the cabinet.  How much thought will go into the position of your right elbow as you work the saw?  Will you have to focus on your balance to sand properly?  No, this is silly, but using these tools isn't much different than learning to use a golf club.  If too much thought is directed inward in any activity, you will become self aware, which will lead to awkwardness and unnatural movement.  Instead, move the focus outward and think about how to use your tool to get results, the same as you do when hammering a nail or sanding a door.  Inward focus on what your legs, hips, shoulders or head is doing while you swing will cause your movements to be artificial or dependent upon thought.  Outward focus placed on what you want the ball to do and swinging the club to make it happen is a big step toward mastering ball striking.  Your movements will become natural and responsive to what you want to do with the tool in your hands. 

If you were a beginning carpenter, your first step would be in understanding what you were making and the process you need to follow to transform your materials into the finished product.  As a ball striker, your focus needs to start with what you want the ball to do and how to use your club and swing to make it happen.  If your club is a tool, the end you grip is the handle.  Your hands form your only connection to the club, so you should make sure that your grip is solid and puts you in control of the entire club throughout the entire motion.  I see so many people on the lesson tee who let go of the club at the top of their swing, at impact or shortly after impact.  Their hands move and adjust to the tool instead of being in control of the tool and making it adjust to what they want it to do.  Imagine hammering a nail with the hammer moving around in your hand.  You would lose accuracy and power.  The same thing happens in the golf swing.  If you want to be a good ball striker, you better figure out how to keep your hands on the club throughout your swing.


Now that you have control of the handle, it is important to understand where the handle needs to be throughout your swing.  The handle is a fulcrum point for your swing, therefore, it is in charge of power.  The position of the handle will control the shaft angle or lean, so it is also in charge of angle of attack and trajectory.  Finally, the handle must rotate to square the face, so it is in charge of direction.  If you were paying attention, you just realized that how you control the handle of the club is how you develop the skills needed to be a great ball striker.

If the handle is a fulcrum point, that means that the club and hands form a lever.  It is one of two levers in the swing, the other being formed by the arms, shoulders and chest.  Your job as a ball striker is to create the angle needed in the lever by cocking your wrists and then uncocking them on the downswing to deliver the club head to the ball.  You can work on this with some small swings that rely only on cocking and uncocking your wrists to strike the ball.  Feel how the weight in the club head helps you feel the lever working.  You should take the time to get good at this move because it will be the move that supplies power to your swing.

 


The next step is to control where your shaft is in relationship to the club head.  The club has more weight in the club head than in the handle.  This creates inertia that must be moved forcibly.  Many of us have learned that we can move the handle one direction to move the club head the opposite direction.  If you started playing as a young child, this was how you initiated your back swing, because it gave you instant leverage, which in turn made the club lighter and easier to move.  However, this same idea of the club head and the club handle moving opposite directions is the cause of many flaws in the golf swing and a direct cause of poor ball striking.  While having the two things move opposite directions is an aid in your takeaway, it hinders your acceleration through the ball if it happens again at impact.  This move is called casting, flicking or cupping by teaching pros.

This is what it looks like if you make impact by throwing the club head at the ball instead of swinging the entire club through the ball to a finish position.  Both swings will finish, but in this swing you will not feel control of the club through the swing and it will finish down your back instead of in control.

Your job is to offset inertia by swinging the club.  If you do it by moving the handle the opposite direction, your motion doesn't produce a swinging motion and will not provide you with the necessary acceleration to hit it long.  Instead, you must swing the entire club.  If you use the club as a tool to produce club head acceleration through past the point of impact, the entire club must keep moving.  Acceleration in golf initiates from the inside and moves to the outside.  Many novice golfers try to accelerate from the outside by throwing the club head at the ball.  If you swing the entire club, the handle accelerates through impact.  If you throw the club head at the ball, the handle slows down prior to impact and the sequence of motion is broken.

Check out where this man's hands and arms are when he delivers the blow to the tree.  He probably gave his body motion little if any thought, yet he is in a perfect delivery position for swinging the golf club or for swinging an axe.  Do you really need to think of every little move you make or do you have a natural swing in there waiting to be delivered?
Picture yourself using any long handled tool, such as a rake, a shovel or an axe.  If you flip the handle to get the end of the tool to work, you lose power.  It makes more sense to flip the handle of a tool with a light end, such as a rake, because you can get by with it.  However, imagine flipping the handle of an axe with a heavy head.  It would be very dangerous.  Instead, you know that when you swing an axe, your hands need to keep firm control and guide the axe handle through the hit.  You would never stop your hands movement to achieve impact, because you inherently understand that speed and power would be lost.  The same thing happens in golf when your intention is to merely hit the ball.  If you want to hit the ball with maximum power, you need to keep firm control over your club and guide it through the hit.  Swing the entire club!

The final action of the club to understand is the rotation that it makes through your swing.  I know I have blogged about this before, but I will go over it again, because it is crucial to squaring your club face and controlling your direction.  The rotation of the club also is a key to what I talked about earlier, swinging the entire club to deliver the club head.  The rotation of the club happens because we stand to the side of the ball and swing away and into the ball to make it fly.  If our tool had more surface to hit the ball, such as a bat does, we could alleviate much of the rotation we use to square the club face.  Because the ball is sitting there motionless, this is often an instinct that people use to hit the golf ball.  Once again, if your goal is simply to hit the ball, this will work.  However, when you don't rotate your arms, your elbow must lead the swing, as in cricket.  This swing is a short one and doesn't produce much power.  By keeping your arms fluid and your balance fairly centered, your body and arms can rotate around that center and generate a fast swing.  As you swing back, your right arm will drop below your left and naturally rotate to allow a full back swing.  As you transition to your forward swing, the arms will rotate back to level at impact and your right arm will replace the left arm on top as you swing through.  Golfers fail to allow natural rotation of the arms and handle of the club for many reasons.  Some players hang onto the club too tightly with too much tension in their hands, their forearms or their elbows.  Other golfers envision the club working in a straight line through the ball and into the finish, which causes a lack of rotation on the through swing.  Then we have the golfers who we talked about earlier who throw the club head at the ball and over rotate the handle before they even get to the impact position.  Proper rotation of the club happens when you understand the motion you are attempting to make and swing the entire club all the way to a finish position.  If you want more information about the rotation of the club through the swing, check out my blog on the subject: The Club's Rotation and Youtube

A cricket batsman leads with his elbow so he doesn't rotate his forearms through the shot.  His swing will not be as fast as a golfers because of this, but he gains power through both his swing and the reactive speed of the ball coming at him.


The main point of today's blog is to get out of your head, away from analyzing each and every movement you make and begin to learn how to use the tool you are holding in your hands, just as you would any other tool you use each day.  Your golf club was designed to produce great golf shots.  Your job is to use it to make those shots happen.  Learn to control both the handle and the club head and you will be on the road to becoming a great ball striker.  When I teach, this is my focus and I have found that it helps everyone from beginners to pros.  If you can learn how the club best works in your hands, you will improve your ball striking - guaranteed!

Friday, March 11, 2011

How to Find & Evaluate Good Golf Instruction

Do you feel vulnerable when you walk in to take a golf lesson for the first time?  That is a natural feeling for beginners and pros alike.  Here are some things you need to consider when you schedule a lesson and how you should approach your lessons.

No matter what your skill level, a great golf professional will accelerate your learning and enjoyment of the game.  Beginners will benefit from a lesson with a great professional as much as will an experienced golfer.  It is a misnomer that new golfers will benefit from any lesson.  Many will spend time later in their golfing career "unlearning" incorrect moves they learned from a poor instructor. 


First, what is the "word of mouth" on your pro?  A great pro will have happy customers who are willing to recommend him or her.  These customers should be at every level of play.  If a pro is only good for good players, there may be disinterest in teaching beginners.  If a pro doesn't work with any good players, there may be a lack of knowledge about the golf swing.  Great pros are able to help beginners learn and enjoy the game as well as guide single digit handicappers to playing better.  It might help if a pro is a good player, but this fact alone shouldn't lead you to schedule a lesson.  The title behind a pro's name also doesn't mean too much.  There are a lot of head professionals with no interest in teaching, while an assistant pro might have found his or her passion on the lesson tee.  Finally, teaching is a cumulative skill.  It takes time, study, trial and error, and good communication skills.  If you want to learn the game as efficiently as possible, find a golf professional who takes the craft very seriously. 

Okay, you have made a decision to schedule a lesson.  How should you prepare?  What should take place in the lesson?  What questions should you ask?  How should you follow-up?  What should you take away from the lesson?  What role should technology have in your lesson?  How can you evaluate the instruction you received?

First, you need to know what you want.  If you are a beginner, are you working toward playing with your spouse or friends?  If you are an avid player, what specifically do you want to improve on?  How much time will you commit to practicing what you learn?  Will you take a follow-up lesson?  If you walk into a lesson without this planning, you will be completely at the will of the professional.  This might be alright if the pro is seasoned.  He or she will guide you through these questions regardless of whether you thought them through.  However, if you don't have a plan and your pro doesn't help you make one, you might be starting a pattern of random lessons.  You will always learn from random lessons, but you won't be working on a plan with goals.  They can also become confusing, because they seem to be presenting new material each time you step on the lesson tee.  Having a plan for your learning will lessen confusion, give you an image of the finished product and keep you focused on moving forward.

Great instructors feel the need to get it right on every swing of the club.  Your set up position will probably be a starting point when you meet a new pro. 


Today is the day for your lesson.  Remember, you hired the pro and it is your lesson.  If at any time the lesson veers from what you want, you need to speak up.  Great pros quickly formulate a plan and share it, but remember, you are paying the bill.  Here is a typical itinerary for your lesson.  First, check into the shop before heading out to the lesson tee.  Get to the lesson tee early enough to do some stretching, hit a few balls, find your rhythm and get comfortable.  If today is your first lesson with the pro, be ready to answer these questions:
  1. What is your most common ball flight?
  2. What do your misses look like?
  3. How often do you play?  How often and how much do you practice?
  4. Why did you schedule a lesson?
  5. What are your goals?  What do you want to get out of today?  
  6. How can I help you?
  7. Do you have any injuries or problems that would affect your ability to make any moves?
If your pro doesn't ask these questions and/or other questions about your game, your needs and your desires for the future, you might be on the wrong lesson tee.  It is also important to address any physical limitations you might bring to the lesson tee to understand your capabilities and to avoid injury.  Many injuries that people suffer on the golf course could be avoided by understanding proper form coupled with individual abilities, instead of model swings.

This sounds like a lot of information, but this process usually takes place in the first five minutes of the lesson and usually happens as you are hitting some shots, so the pro is getting an idea of your motion at the same time.  Not all lessons happen on the lesson tee.  About 1/4 of the lessons I give happen on the putting green or the short game area.  If we equated lessons with strokes on the course, that number would be at 1/2 of the lessons given, since about 1/2 of your shots happen within 100 yards of the green.  This is also your choice, not the pros.  What part of your game would benefit from a lesson the most?

The next step is a crucial testimony to your pro's skill.  Your pro should be able to explain your swing, including what is good in it and what should be improved.  A great pro will never tell you what not to do.  Instead, any unneeded movement will be replaced by a different or correct movement.  There is no strength is telling you what not to do.  Learning is also weakened by having too many fronts.  That means a good pro will share only one or two things on which to work.  Generally, when you change one move in a swing, you must also change a second move to positively effect ball flight.  For example, if your club face is open at impact and you slice your driver, it would probably not be enough to square up your club face.  You have probably been making some sort of compensation to get the ball in play that will also need to be changed.  The pro should clearly explain how the changes you make will fit into the big picture and effect your ball flight.

During or following the lesson a good pro will help you with ways to practice, including drills, the feel of the change and what your ball flight should look like.  When you walk away from the lesson tee, you need to understand how much influence your old habits will have.  No one likes to be uncomfortable or doubtful and those are two by-products of a lesson.  The pro's job is to break your habits by replacing them with other moves and to anticipate the discomfort by giving you a preview of what you will see and feel as you make the changes.  All of us are more at ease when we see what we expected to see.  You should also have an idea of how long it will take you to get the new move off the practice tee and onto the golf course.  The pro should also let you know how today's lesson fits in with his or her plans for your overall game.  When you take a lesson, you enter a partnership whose goal is your improved golf game.  Your success will benefit both you and the pro, whose reputation is on the line each and every time he or she steps on the lesson tee.

Great teachers help you feel the proper positions needed to hit good golf shots.  This instructor is working on a proper impact position. 


The lesson is finished.  If you have any confusion, you didn't ask enough questions.  There is no such thing as a dumb question and no pro should ever give you that feeling.  The disparity in your knowledge and his or hers might be immense, so your goal should be to lessen that gap.  It is also important to understand all the vocabulary that is used on the lesson tee.  Don't be afraid to ask what is meant if you aren't clear.  I have met scratch golfers with little understanding of their motion, so I never assume that anyone on the lesson tee understands any technicality.  You should be very clear on what changes you need to effectuate change.  You should understand the practice time it will take to make the changes.  You should have a plan for how to practice.  You should know if this is all that is needed for your game or if it is a step toward your mastering the skills needed to be a good golfer.

Lines, lines, everywhere the lines.  Pros look smart when they have a computer, the ability to draw lines on your swing and the knowledge to breakdown your swing.  However, the ability to understand how and where to draw the lines is a learned skill and preferences will come into play.  It is also important to find an instructor who wants  to make you the best "you" you can be, not a clone of a model, such as Luke Donald, pictured above or Michelle Wie.


Many pros utilize technology to teach.  While I believe technology is a great aid for learning the game, it is an aid, not a primary tool.  Information gained through technology is only as good as the interpreter of the data.  Many students have no idea what to look for in a video.  Launch monitors provide a lot of meaningless numbers to most people.  K Vests are helpful when matched to individual needs.  In other words, technology is still reliant upon a great pro's guidance.  All the gadgets in the world won't help a student who is lead by an ineffective teacher.  Technology often provides too much information and a long list of needs or changes.  Students become overwhelmed by too much information and soon jump around from move to move.  This unfocused approach is confusing and slows down learning.



How can you evaluate your lesson?  That is an easy question.  Did you walk away with more knowledge about what it would take for you to be a better golfer?  Did you improve when you followed the pro's plan?  Are you gaining confidence in your game?  Would you recommend the pro to your friends?

Today's blog was concerned about a rudimentary lesson.  If you continue to take lessons, make sure that you are learning how to develop and use a pre-shot routine, how to visualize shots, how to choose and commit to targets and how to develop all parts of your game, including chipping, pitching and putting.  Make it your responsibility to learn all you can and that attitude will lead you to ask questions, move away from the lesson tee to the putting green and get as much information from your pro as is possible. Your time on the golf course should be more enjoyable because of the time you spent with your professional.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Putting on an Arc

What skills do you need to putt well?  First, you need to be able to start the ball rolling on the line needed.  Second, you need to be able to put the proper pace on the ball so it rolls to the hole and falls in.  Third, you need to be able to understand how slopes and grain effect the pace and line so you can match what is needed to what you do.  Anyone who understands and practices these three skills can be a great putter.



In order to start the ball rolling online, you need to know how to aim and how to swing the putter and square the face up to the line.  Aiming is hard for a lot of people and I believe it is because they are trying to aim from unnatural positions.  If you were asked to stand and face the hole and roll your golf ball to the hole with your dominant hand, would your aim be a problem?  Probably not.  If you could stand and roll the ball, your shoulder would be right over the aim line so you could just swing your arm along that line.  That would be the most logical approach if you rolled the ball with your hand.  Let's say you now have to turn your body and face the line instead of the hole.  The movement gets more complicated.  You have to swing your arm across your body, but your chest will be in the way, so you need to bend and tilt a bit.  Suddenly, you are skewed to the aim line.  This is essentially what happens to us when we putt.

Your ability to aim is effected by your balance and the levelness of your eyes.  The best place to aim your putt is when you are standing behind the ball, prior to walking into it.  Some people choose a point to roll the ball over and keep it in mind as they approach the ball.  Others simply see where they want the ball to go.  This portion of the pre shot routine for putting causes a lot of unneeded stress.  I have students who do some sort of pirouette around the ball holding their putter in place and others who meticulously align a line on their ball to the hole.  I believe these folks are not giving themselves much credit.  All of us are born with an intuitive sense of our surroundings.  Once you take a good look at something, your mind is very aware of its position and your eyes will instantly go to that point when you focus on it.  Think of a shortstop fielding a grounder deep in the hole, coming up with the ball, spinning and throwing to first.  How did he know where first was?  Or a basketball player posting up with her back to the basket.  How is she able to turn and shoot without a laborious process of alignment?  Choose your aim line from behind the ball and simply go and line the putter up to that line.  Trust yourself.  That trust will go a long way toward becoming a great putter, while fooling around with minutia over the ball breeds doubt.  Remember, your mind will allow you to maintain your aim point throughout your pre shot, but if your mind wanders from the aim point to the hole, your aim will probably skew to the hole, so make sure your focus stays on where the ball needs to start rolling.



Starting the ball on line is the next step.  Your putter face needs to be square to the line each and every time you putt.  There is a lot of talk these days about putting on an arc, letting the putter swing to the inside, squaring up and swinging back to the inside after impact.  I think it is important to remember that all putters swing on an arc.  The straight back and straight through putters' arcs swing up and down, while Utley's arc swings in and out.  The path that your putter swings on doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that you can square the face of the club up each and every time you putt.  If one path or another makes that easier, than use it, but the truth lies in where the face of your putter looks at impact.
When I teach a beginner to putt, I tell them to envision two eyes in their putter faces.  The goal is to get these eyes looking dead at the aim line when they putt.  Next time you are on the putting green, lay a dime on the green, put a golf ball about a foot away and see if you can putt and roll your ball over that dime.  This will give you an idea if you are starting the ball where you are aimed.

Pace is a lot like aiming in that most people don't allow themselves to simply see what they need to do and do it.  Golf is an athletic sport and all of us are athletic enough to swing a putter and produce the correct amount of speed needed to roll a ball a given distance.  We get into trouble when the brain gets in between the eyes and the hands.  One way to learn to let your hands react to what your eyes see is to practice by looking at the hole as you putt.  Try this on short putts as well as long putts and your hands will soon make the adjustments needed to create the correct pace for all lengths of putts.

My February 28th blog, Reading Greens Like a Kid, is a good one to help you understand how to read greens.  The third skill of understanding the effect of slopes and grain is an important one, especially if you travel a lot.  If you play a home course every day, you will begin to memorize the greens and this skill becomes less important to you.  When you put all three skills together, you can become a great putter.  Great putting does so much for a golf game.  It alleviates pressure while poor putting adds pressure.  Great putting sends you to the next hole in a good frame of mind while poor putting is often carried into the next tee shot.  Great putting covers many mistakes while poor putting multiplies mistakes.  If you could choose only one golf skill at which to shine, putting would be the most logical choice.  

Don't talk about putting, just do it! Check out this study.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Visualization

Visualization is written about in almost every blog I write and I believe it is very important to playing good golf.  I found when I was coaching that lots of people don't know how to visualize, have no control over their visualization or just don't understand what they should be "seeing".

What do you see?  A big green that looks like a soft sponge or the menacing water that surrounds the green like a moat?


How important is visualization?  It can be used to relax between shots, prepare for a round, rehearse a shot, focus your attention, distract your attention, prepare for obstacles, and enhance your physical skills.  What exactly is visualization and how can you practice your skills?
Visualization creates focus.  The worst advice you can give someone is to "clear their mind".  Instead of clearing your mind, see a picture of what you want in your mind.


Let's start out by simply going through the ways visualization can help you and that will answer both questions.
Can you go to this hammock in your mind?  Can you see the blue sky?  Can you feel the breeze on your skin?  Can you hear the water lapping onto the beach?  Can you taste the salt on your margarita? 
  1. Relaxation - You probably do this now without even realizing it.  Imagine you are flying to Hawaii for a vacation.  Next to you on the plane is a fussy two year old.  You are annoyed, but your mind wanders to the beach that you will be on in a few hours.  This is a great example of using visualization to relax.  Being able to escape between shots is as good for your round as being focused over the shot.  This is especially helpful if you are paired with slow players or when tension mounts.
  2. Prepare for a Round - If you have a good memory, you can go through your game plan prior to playing a round of golf by mentally playing shots.  Some players use a yardage book to help them visualize the course prior to the round.  This enhances your familiarity of the golf course and perhaps gives the feeling of experience on the course. 
  3. Rehearse a Shot - To me, this is the visualization of intention.  How do you want to hit a shot?  What will the swing feel like?  What will the flight or roll look like?  Where will it land?
  4. Focus your Attention - If you visualize, you paint a mental picture.  Is it possible to see two mental pictures at once?  Try it! The trick is to hang onto your mental picture without letting your mind jump to other things.  One way to do that is to be vivid with your picture.  Try it now.  See a scene.  Include things that hit all of your senses.  Do you feel a breeze?  Can you smell the grass?  How many different shades of green do you see in the grass and trees?  
  5. Distract your Attention - If you are facing a shot over water and it is creating stress, can you visualize something to help you focus on what you want instead of what you fear?  You don't have to picture the green.  Instead, you could picture a big sponge or an archery target with the pin in the bulls eye.  Visualization is the art of using your imagination, so make it vivid, fun and creative. 
  6. Prepare for Obstacles - This is one area that is seldom used and something I believe is crucial for success.  If you lay in your hotel bed and picture yourself shooting 68 with drives down the middle, crisp iron shots and putts falling you are visualizing what you want.  However, what happens to that frame of mind when the ball doesn't fly straight?  How do you reconcile your preparation with what is happening in real time?  You can script your actions when faced with problems and visualize yourself calmly making good choices.  This isn't about visualizing bad shots or picturing yourself making mistakes, but the actions following them. 
  7. Enhance your Physical Skills - If you are making a swing change or learning a new shot or skill, it is as powerful to see the new move as it is to practice it physically.  Once again, visualization equals intention.  It puts your mind squarely on the new move instead of allowing yourself to rely on old habits. 
If you are working on a knock down shot, can you see what happens in the yellow circle? 

Visualization is very individual.  Some of us can see ourselves hitting shots as a camera would, while others feel the swing from within.  When I hit shots, I can easily visualize what I want the clubface and shaft lean to look like at impact and everything comes from that, but I have a very hard time seeing myself swing the club.  Other players can see the ball flying from the clubface and through the air.  If you have a hard time visualizing yourself hitting shots, try to see the club at impact or the ball flight.  Some people start with the end of the shot and work backwards.  The point here is, don't allow what you can't see stress you out.  Much of the literature on visualization is strict in its direction and language.  However, you need to approach it based on what you can do and what you like.  If you can easily see color, make the green a vivid green when you hit an approach shot and visualize the whiteness of the ball on the vivid green.  If you can feel more easily than you can see, use your practice swing to visualize your move in your mind's eye.  There is no right or wrong way to visualize.  Instead, it is a tool to help you focus your attention, rehearse your shots and control your thoughts in a positive way. 

This is a great way to practice visualization.  You could also see a highway, a train track or a colored ribbon flowing to the hole. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pitch, Pitch, Pitch!

Pitching is the same motion, no matter what your sport.  Your body will rotate slightly, your weight will shift slightly allowing you to build momentum with the motion and swing, as you swing your arm or arms, your weight will center over the leg closest to the target and the momentum will release as you swing toward the target.  Many sports rely on this same principle with slight differences. 

Here are some pictures of a pitching motion with an explanation of how they relate to golf. 
The bowler's swing happens as he is moving through space with a heavy ball.  That allows him to feel the weight build momentum.  The tempo is reliant upon that momentum and it is very hard to force or shorten the swing when bowling.
When pitching a softball, the arm swing builds momentum and the step forward gives tempo and allows the arm swing to build even more momentum to the target.  The pitcher must generate his own tempo in his swing due to the lightness of the ball.  He releases his pitch solidly balanced over the leg closest to the target, with square hips facing the plate. 
When pitching in golf, there are no steps to aid in building or releasing momentum, so the body must create motion through the turn.  The arms swing together back and through, capturing and releasing momentum.  The club is an extension of the swinging arms and releases at the bottom of the swing.  The weight is centered over the leg closest to the target, just as it is in all pitching sports.  


The full motion of the pitching swing is often hard for new golfers and even some experienced players.  Instead of thinking of the swing as a building and releasing of momentum, they want to hit the ball, help the ball up, lift the ball or scoop the ball.  The idea of hitting the ball causes golfers to swing the club to the ball with no through swing or release.  The thought of helping or lifting the ball causes people to move their weight back to the back leg instead of moving to the target as they turn.  The mental image of scooping causes golfers to stop the swinging of the arms and use the hands to move the club through the ball.  If you were pitching a ball or rolling a bowling ball, you would be sure to follow through to the target.  Your club is merely an extension of your hands and a good follow through with your hands will allow the club to release at the bottom of the swing and continue to the finish position.

Here is an example of a player helping the ball up.  You will notice his weight is on his back foot and his follow through is too short to be effective. 

Here are some ideas to help you capture the correct concepts needed to pitch the ball beautifully.  First, relax your elbows.  Can you imagine pitching a ball or a horseshoe with locked elbows?  The idea that your arms have to be dead straight causes you to lose the sequence of motion that happens if your arms are soft enough to feel the momentum of your turn and the weight of the clubhead.  Next, remember that all pitching motions release at the midpoint of the swing with the weight centered on the leg closest to the target.  While this seems to be a very natural motion when tossing a ball or a horseshoe, because of the stepping move to the target, it is less natural for golfers due to the stationary feet.  However natural or unnatural it feels, it is a crucial move to releasing the momentum you gathered with the turn and arm swing.  The final similarity that doesn't seem as natural in golf is the follow through.  When pitching the softball or bowling, you are watching the target as you swing and release.  When hitting the golf ball, our focus is instead on the ball.  This difference causes golfers to have too much focus down at the ground and not enough on the target.  This is another reason that some golfers don't move their weight to the target leg or allow the release of the momentum built up in the back swing.

Here is a great shot of Luke Donald hitting a pitch shot.  This swing illustrates both the simplicity of the motion and the building and releasing of momentum to the target while centered over the leg closest to the target.

Luke Donald Slo Mo Pitch Shot,

When I was young player, I was taught to pitch with a very heavy sand wedge by one of the old guys at the course.  His advice to me was always the same, "let the club do the work!"  He was teaching me to use momentum to hit pitch shots.  I have passed that lesson on many times.  When you want to improve your pitching motion, find the simplicity in the motion, as though you were tossing a softball.  Remember, the pitching motion doesn't stop at the ball, but it is a full motion that goes to the target.  Hopefully, these tips help you understand what you need to do to hit a high, soft pitch shot.