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!

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