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.

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