Saturday, July 30, 2011

Golf Swing Awareness

What makes a great ball striker?  Is it the crispness of the shots, the ability to hit fairways and greens or the creativity of working the ball when needed?  All of these things combine into the skills needed to be a tour level ball striker.  How are these skills developed?  The obvious answer is countless repetitions, but there is more to it than just practice.  There needs to be an awareness of what the club face is doing, how the shaft is controlled and the rhythm and tempo of the swing.  These are some specific skills that combine to produce great shots.

Ernie Els has one of the most beautiful swings on tour.  His tempo, rhythm and balance all combine to produce great power while seeming effortless.

The foundation of your swing is your balance and the balance of the club.  These have already been covered in the blog.  If you want to check them out, here are the links:  technique and technique cont.  Your balance is very reliant upon your tempo and rhythm.  All great ball strikers have a consistent tempo and can produce rhythmic swings that provide the speed and power that matches what is needed for distance and accuracy.

Here is my interpretation of rhythm and tempo in the golf swing.  Your rhythm is the pattern of your movements over time.  Your tempo is how slowly or quickly you swing the club.  Here is a youtube video of contrasting tempos:  Ai Miyazato vs. Brittany Lincicome  Brittany's tempo is much quicker than Ai's tempo.  Neither is better than the other, they are simply different.  If you want an idea of how closely linked your balance and tempo are, check out this video of Ai doing balance drills. This drill shows Ai's slow, smooth tempo, but you will notice the rhythm of her swing is a bit slower than the swing she is making in the first video.

Those links show differing tempos and here are some links showing different rhythms.  Check out these two swings by John Cook:  wedge swing and driver swing  John's tempo is the same with both swings, but the rhythm of the swings is different.  The wedge swing is shorter, making the rhythm a bit quicker than the longer driver swing.  However, if you count out a 4 beat, starting it when he takes the club away, 2 at the top, 3 at impact and 4 at finish, you will find his tempo to be the same.
Do you have rhythm?  Is your normal tempo quick or slow?  Whatever it is, don't worry about changing it.  Instead, understand that your tempo reflects how you move and shouldn't be based on your pro's preference for a slow or fast swing.

Why am I explaining rhythm and tempo instead of talking about how to hit crisp shots?  Because great ball strikers have consistent tempo and they are in control of their rhythm.  In order to have that control, you must have an awareness of your movements and where your body is in space.   How can you tune in to your swing and feel your rhythm?  Here are some drills to help you raise your awareness to become a better ball striker:

Can you swing the club in super slow motion?  This is a great drill to raise the awareness of how you want to move through a swing.  This drill is tough for even great players, but helps everyone figure out where he or she might have confusion or a lack of awareness in the swing.

Another drill that helps with awareness is to hit your driver fully and powerfully.  Now hit it at 3/4 speed, then 1/2 speed and then 1/4 speed.  How far did your shots go?  Were you able to maintain your tempo through these swings?

Find a great training aid, such as an orange whip to help you feel the weight of the club head and the transition of your swing.

Practice making swings as though your hands are the hands of the clock.  You can also use body parts as check points instead of numbers on a clock.  Start with 9:00 to 3:00 or waist high to waist high.  Now go to 11:00 to 1:00 or shoulder high.  A tougher shot for many people is 7:00 to 5:00 or hip to hip.  An important thing to remember when you are learning to control the length of your swing is, your rhythm should be smooth.  If you throw a ball in the air, it starts back down at the same speed regardless of how high you throw it.  Your swing should have the same smooth transition, no matter the size of your back swing.  Another factor to keep in mind is to match your swing back and through.  If you do this drill with a friend, they can give you feedback as to how far your hands move back and through.

In a 10 to 2 swing, your hand movement will reflect the numbers on a clock and move back to 10 and through to 2.

Hit balls with your eyes closed to feel your swing better.  Choose something to focus on when you make your swing.  For example, close your eyes, think about what the handle of the club is doing and make a swing.  Could you feel where the handle was as you swung the club?  You can think about the club head, the toe of the club, the shaft of the club, your hands or your turn.  Anything that you think about will help you gain awareness.

Can you find a four beat sentence and say it as you hit?  Or, you can simply count 1 to 4.  The trick here is to say it out loud and pronounce it smoothly.  Many amateurs I have worked with will bunch up the numbers in areas that are lacking smoothness, usually in the transition of the swing or at impact.  Start this drill with small wedges to get a feel for it.

Hit some shots while challenging your balance, as Ai Miyazato did in the link above.  You can hit by standing on one leg or by setting up on a balance board or ball.  If your range has wooden separators, you have a tool right in front of you.  If your tempo suffers, your balance will suffer in turn.  Many players spend a lot of energy in their swings fighting their balance and momentum instead of using that energy to hit crisp and powerful shots.

Finally, make some swings with just one hand on the club.  This is a great way to feel the weight of the club and its natural path in your swing.  If your club falls off balance, you will lose speed and control.  Many of the clubs manufactured for women are so light that many of my students have never really felt the club head in their swing.  That is one of the most important steps to becoming a great ball striker and it needs to be addressed in some way!

If you want to improve your ball striking, you should first increase your awareness of your swing and make your balance, rhythm and tempo rock solid.  

Here are some links to the Orange Whip and also to Fred Shoemaker's book, Extraordinary Golf.  In it, he does a great job of talking about awareness in your swing.

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