Friday, May 20, 2011

Use Your Hands!

Today, I spent the day at Roanoke Country Club watching the Scott Robertson Memorial Golf Tournament.  It was a beautiful day on an A.W. Tillinghast designed golf course.  The course is short, tight and tricky.  There were a few low scores in the field of girls, but the majority of the players were over par.  One of the factors that cost players a lot of shots was the deep rough around the green.  At times the ball nestled down to the point that players were almost stepping on it without seeing it.  When a ball falls to the bottom of deep rough, your goal is to create as much angle as possible so you can pop the ball out of the rough without gathering a bunch of grass between the club and the ball prior to impact.  The way to create a steep angle so you have a sharply decending blow is to use your hands.  Today, many of the players I watched used more of an arm swing and a sweeping motion instead of setting their hands early and swinging with soft arms.

Here are two shots of Mickleson hitting wedges.  The top shot shows him hitting a shot with a soft right arm (left handed).  His right arm stays close to the body and folds quickly after impact.  The bottom shot is a fuller swing with more of a sweeping motion.  His right arm is much straighter in this follow through and a more shallow angle of attack was used. 

Many players are taught the importance of a straight left arm early in their career.  That straight arm creates an important lever in the swing and is a factor in power and accuracy.  However, an important thing to remember is, your left arm should be straight, yet flexible.  If your arm is too tight or your elbow is locked, your elasticity will be lost and in turn, speed will be lost.  Another problem with an arm that is too straight or locked joints is, you lose the ability to truly control your angle of attack.  Whenever your ball lies in deep rough, you need a very steep angle of attack.  This can be accomplished with an early set of the hands and soft arms.  Once the angle is set, let your arms fall back through the shot and turn through.  When you learn to lift and drop your arms instead of sweeping them away from the ball in the back swing, you can then learn to use momentum and a great angle of attack for those little shots in deep rough around the green. 

Watson Holes Out in the 1982 Open  Here is one of the best examples of a player using his hands to set the club, create an angle and hold it through the shot.   

Here is a picture of the same shot dipicted in the video.  Look how high the ball pops out! 

If you would like to learn or practice this shot, start off by swinging your arms back about belt high while also cocking your wrists so your thumbs point at the sky.  Pause for just a moment as an exercise and then simply let your arms fall and your wrists release the club head into the ball.  By doing this with no follow through, you will get a feel for the momentum you can create and also how you can get the club head on the ball with little interference from the grass behind it.  When you can do this successfully a few times, swing the club through so your arms finish about belt high on your follow through and once again, your thumbs will point at the sky.  Your right arm (right handed player) will act much the same as it would if you bounced a rubber ball high off the ground.  When you are playing the shot on the golf course, make sure your back swing and through swing match so the club swings through the shot. 

When you learn to use angle and momentum to hit the shot, you learn to create a high trajectory for your shot.  When you try to use arm speed to hit this shot and have a sweeping or shallow approach, you will be guessing at your trajectory due to the grass your club will have to go through prior to hitting the ball.  The grass will also effect club head speed.

Remember, we are talking about short shots hit around the greens, not long shot requiring a lot of club head speed. 

Here is a film of Frank Nobilo explaining the shot.

When I watch great players play the game, they all have great hands.  By that, I mean that their hands seem to be in control of the club while still seeming soft.  Great players also have a great feel for tempo and momentum.  None of these traits will be present if your forearms and elbows are too tight or if you force speed by pulling the club through impact.  Next time you go to the practice green, throw down a few balls and hit some shots feeling the momentum of the club head as it swings back and through the shot. 

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