Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning to Lean

In 1983, I moved to Jackson Hole.  I was and still am in love with mountains and the Tetons are the most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.  During the first ski season in Jackson, I had to learn an important skill, skiing steeps.  Jackson Hole is a very steep mountain.  If you live there and want to tag along with your buddies, you need to keep up. That was my motivation, so I took it upon myself to learn to ski anything.

I spent hours and hours skiing by myself off the Thunder Chair.  I took the same route countless times.  Directly to the right off the chair was a little steep that was about ten turns long.  I learned quickly that in order to be in control on a steep slope, I had to lean out.  If I leaned out over the hill, I had leverage to keep my ski's edge on the hill.  If I hung back and clung to the hill, I lost my leverage, my edge and was soon on my hip sliding out of control.  That was why a ten turn run was perfect.  I couldn't fall too far.

A skier about to make a turn on a steep.  This is the moment of weightlessness that is both frightening and addicting.

Learning to lean meant fighting my instincts to hang back.  It meant creating my own momentum in a situation where I was fearful of speed.  It created a moment of weightlessness that felt a lot like falling.  It was scary!  Once I leaned, I was into the first turn.  There was no turning back.  A little lean equaled action and my job at that point was to keep up with what I created.  As soon as I learned the skill, I couldn't get enough of it.  I was soon skiing the Cirque or Headwall or even the Alta Chutes.  I no longer watched my buddies head off without me, but instead I was close behind and skiing the entire mountain.

Learning to lean is a skill that helps you in any situation.  It is that moment when you take a breath, close your eyes, maybe even say a little prayer and then LEAN.  It isn't about having confidence or even courage, its simply about creating your own momentum.  There can't be thought.  There can only be action.  The action is small and almost immeasurable, but it is enough.  It is a lean.

Over the years, I have coached so many great golfers who at times struggle with confidence.  Instead of relying on their training, their instincts and their athleticism, they question themselves.  Their minds are busy and their spirit is low.  They get overwhelmed with things like results, the how-tos, and the possibility of failure.  They feel pretty isolated in their fears and thoughts and begin to question everything.  By everything, I do mean everything; their talent, their future, their place on the team or their ability to play the game, much less win.  The questions gnaw at them until they feel lost.  At this point, they have lost their confidence.  At least, that is what they tell me.

Rory McIlroy lost his way at the Masters, but was soon back on his game.  He created his own momentum. 

Losing your confidence can happen in short lapses during a round or it can happen over a long period of time and stick with you.  It hurts and it takes the fun out of golf.  What players need in these times is a lean and very little more.  They need to quiet their mind, close their eyes, say a little prayer if needed and create their own momentum.

Even the very best players will lose their confidence if they question their preparation or their talent.   What great players learn is that they need to set aside those questions and trust themselves enough to focus and take action.  They make mistakes and then they lean a little and get a little momentum.  They do this over and over until they know that they can do it at will.  Young players think that confidence is a trait they should feel lifting them up, but confidence is actually the ability to pick yourself up.  A great player doesn't rely on confidence in a tough situation, she relies on herself.  The only time a golfer ever thinks about confidence is when she feels as though she has none.

When things aren't going well and you feel really low about yourself and your game, confidence seems like the magic you are missing.  When you have those feelings, force yourself into action.  Give a little lean and create your own momentum.  That action doesn't need to be big, but it will signal your commitment to yourself and the situation.  Know that you will still take some falls.  It will make it tougher to create your own momentum, but remember the drill; take a breath, close your eyes, say a little prayer if needed and lean. 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Can You Earn a PhD in Chipping?

SMU Women's Golf

What do you need to do to be a great chipper?
  1. Choose your shot
    • Find a flat spot to land the ball on if possible
    • Keep the landing spot as close to you as possible
  2. Visualize your shot
    • Imagine your shot from impact into the hole
    • Imagine the speed of the rolling ball
  3. Land your shot on the spot chosen
    • You need solid, consistent contact
    • A rhythmic swing produces the speed you want
  4. Control trajectory
    • Your ball position can be changed
    • The speed of your swing needs to be adjusted based on trajectory
  5. Control spin/roll
    • Your club choice will dictate roll out
    • Your contact will effect spin and roll
How can you practice each skill?  These challenges will help you understand how to control your chips.  These are assuming that you have good technique that is repeatable and produces solid contact.  If you don't, schedule a lesson with your local PGA or LPGA pro or at the very least, check out some youtube videos offering chipping technique.  Conversely, many times, good players believe they need a technique lesson when their chipping goes south.  Often, they need to understand what they are trying to do with the shot and how to practice.  That is what this blog is about.

Tom Watson


Challenge #1
  • Start from 5 yards off the green.  Choose 3 clubs you would normally use around the green.  Without a target, use a repeatable, rhythmic swing and hit 2 shots with the ball back in your stance.  Hit 2 shots with the ball in the middle of your stance.  Hit 2 shots with the ball forward in your stance.  Notice how your ball position creates different landing points and different amounts of roll and possibly spin also.  Do this with all three clubs and pay attention.  You can repeat this from further off the green or change the swing you use.  Don't work with a target, instead, get a feel for speed needed, spin produced and roll out of the ball.
  • Now, place 3 tees on the green.  Start with them at 2, 4 and 6 yards on the green. You can choose any distances after the first go round.  Chip until you land your ball on the first tee with your most lofted club.  Be as precise as possible.  When you do it, move to the second tee.  What can you adjust to make the shot?  
    • Length of swing
    • Speed of swing
    • Ball position 
  • Your focus in this challenge is to understand how the different factors come together to create the shot you want.  If you keep your ball position consistent, you will need more speed as you move to the longer shots.  If instead, you move the ball slightly forward, you can go to the second tee with roughly the same swing speed you used on the first tee.  That ball position will effect the amount of roll out, so pay attention to that, too. 
  • Do this with all three clubs.  Hit to a tee until you get the distance needed, then move to the next tee.  
  • When you achieve that, use the first club and hit one shot to each tee.  When you become great at landing the ball where you want to, you are well on your way to your chipping PhD.
  • As you improve at hitting the targets 2, 4, and 6 yards away, begin to introduce different distances, such as 5, 10 and 15 yards.  Learn which clubs to use for different yardages and how much roll out occurs.  
  •  When you are great at 5 yards off the green, begin to move further away.  

Challenge #2
  • Start at 5 yards off the green once again.  Lay 2 irons on the green approximately 5 paces and 6 paces away.  Choose 3 clubs once again.  Land chip shots in between the two clubs with the ball back in your stance.  Watch the roll out.  Step it off.  The first challenge was focused on being precise where you land the ball and this challenge is about understanding roll out. 
    • I used to believe in a ratio system for chipping, but the more golf I watch, the more I now understand that that is a flawed approach.  If you are chipping with a lob wedge, you will get consistent roll out no matter how far the ball flies.  This is usually between 2-3 yards.  So a 1:1 ratio would only be true for a shot that flew 3 yards in the air.  If you fly a ball 9 yards in the air with a 60 degree wedge, it will probably roll out about 3 yards, which changes the ratio to 1:3.
    • Now do the same thing with the ball in the middle of your stance.  How did this change your roll out?
  • Your roll out will be effected by spin.  Your spin is effected by where you put the ball in your stance and your loft at contact.  Most tour players hit their chip shots with a shallow approach, which allows a better chance to put spin on the ball.  Most amateurs have been taught to chip using a damage control theory.  In order to offset their instinct to lift the ball in the air, they are told to put the ball back in their stance, which creates a very steep approach. This doesn't allow them the time or space needed to lift the ball.  Tour players will also put the ball back in their stance when they don't want a lot of spin or when the want the ball to launch low.  When your technique is rock solid, as most tour player's, you can adjust ball position.  That allows you to adjust the height of your chip's launch and the spin. 
  • Here are the components that effect spin:
    • The ball you use.
    • The cleanness of contact (lack of dirt or grass between the club face and ball)
    • The speed of your swing
    • The angle of attack's relationship with your dynamic loft at impact
If you use a low cost golf ball, you probably won't get much spin.  If you are in deep rough or have a dirty club face, you won't get much spin.  Most chip shots are at slow speeds, so that means they don't produce much spin, just a little.  The final factor is a little tougher to explain so simply.
The relationship of dynamic loft with the angle of attack of your swing is what creates spin. To keep things very simple here, the more loft and the shallower the approach = the most spin.  Less loft and the steeper the approach = the least spin.  If you want to hit a shot that doesn't spin, use less loft or move it back in your stance.  If you have a 60 degree wedge back in your stance, it will probably still impart spin on the ball due to the effective loft it will have at impact. 

As you move the ball up and back in your stance, you will start to notice the effect that this has.  When the ball is back in your stance, you will hit down on the ball.  The more you hit down on the ball, the lower the ball will launch.  When you do so, you will need more speed to get the ball to land at the first tee than if you hit it with a more shallow approach and launched it higher.  When you practice by isolating each factor, such as club choice, ball position, length and speed of swing, you will begin to get a clearer idea of what factors cause differences in ball flight.
Angela Stanford



Challenge #3
  • Use what you learned and set up some shots.  You will need 1 club, 2 balls and 1 tee.  Work close to the green to start.  As you improve, you can work from further away from the green.  
    • Choose your shot.  Find a flat spot to land your ball and put a tee in the spot.  
    • Visualize your shot from impact to the hole.  Better yet, verbalize it.  
    • Hit the shot.  
      • Did you hit your spot?
      • Did the ball hit and roll or hit and spin?
      • Did it react how you visualized?
      • If not, drop the 2nd ball and make the adjustment needed.  
        • You can move the tee or
        • Change ball position or
        • Change clubs or
        • Change your length/speed of swing



Monday, December 3, 2012

Shoulder Plane

As a teacher, I am aware of times when I offer similar lessons to my students.  It is important that I'm focused on the individual's needs and not caught up in a topic that is popular in my teaching or thoughts at the moment.  I used to work with a pro who gave his students the same lesson he himself was working on.  Thanks to him, I always think about whether or not I am on a hot topic or serving individual needs.  With that being said, there are two topics that seem to be the focus of many lessons.  The first is the ability to deliver the clubhead to the golf ball effectively and efficiently.  The second is the shoulder plane that is set and maintained through the swing.

Lately, we have been working on adding distance to some young ladies games.  If we start at the beginning of the process, we have to start with the need for speed.  Power in golf is actually speed.  You can see big, beefy men on the driving range who can't hit it very far, but next to them is a little, skinny guy who has a lot of power.  The power produced in golf comes from the ability to deliver the club head with as much speed as possible.  We have talked about that in past blogs and you can refer to them using these links:  Deliver the Club Head Blog or Swing the Club Head Blog  Just delivering the clubhead doesn't automatically lead to speed.  When coupled with rotation and weight shift, you put power behind the delivery.  In order to get as much power as possible, your sequence of movements needs to be correct.  One of the main indicators of whether or not you are successful in having a great sequence that produces power is your shoulder plane.

Shoulder plane is an indicator in the same way that footwork is an indicator of balance.  A well sequenced swing looks effortless.  It is balanced, centered and the turn of the shoulders is unhindered.  Shoulder plane is directly related to power.  Check out these pictures of Rory and Tiger side by side:

From Golf Digest

Read More Golf Digest Link
In their back swing, both men make a free and efficient turn and their shoulders reach a plane that allows them to stay centered and create maximum rotation.  The same thing happens in the through swing as shown on the right.  Their shoulders appear almost as wide after impact as they do in the finish, which tells me their rotation was unhindered.  The outcome is the right arm extension down the line in this picture.  That is a position that is impossible to achieve if a player's swing sequence is off or if the shoulders get too level.  The right arm extends athletically, which means it is active and lively, not forced or locked.  This can only occur if it works under the shoulder instead of up and around the shoulder.  The other thing to take away from the picture on the right is that the hips are cleared ahead of the shoulders which allows the right shoulder to work down through the ball as I just mentioned.

We gain power by gaining speed in the golf swing.  However, our instincts seem to be based on power = force.  Force seems to mean big muscle movements to players, so many players learn to square the club using their right shoulder and "hitting" the ball instead of "swinging the club".  The simplest way for me to describe a hit instinct is to tell you the major difference in the two moves.  A swing motion always happens with the elbows pointing down and in toward the body.  This is true of even the flattest swingers of the club.  Check out Matt Kuchar here:
Matt may get to the ball completely differently than Rory and Tiger, but his position just past impact is exactly the same and the position we should all strive for.  His hips are cleared, his right arm is extended down the line and his shoulders have rotated quickly and efficiently and allowed him to stay centered at impact.

A hit motion happens when the dominant arm rotates to a position with the elbow pointed outside the body.  Stand up and swing your dominant arm in front of you with your elbow coming in close to your hip.  Now rotate your arm on the downswing as though you are throwing something to the ground.  In the first move, you will see the inside of your forearm and in the second, you will see the top of your forearm and the back of your hand.  That second move is a killer in the golf swing, yet it is very common.  It is the result of the "hit" instinct.  

As soon as either of your arms rotate so that your elbows point outside your body, you will lose your sequence and speed.  This isn't a big move, but a very small and subtle move.  That is why the shoulder plane is an important indicator.  Students often feel the move and know it is wrong.  They usually come to the lesson tee and tell us that they are coming over the ball.  That is code for losing their sequence.  In my experience, these players lack the ability to square the club with their hands, so that is often where we start. 

When I was a kid and we didn't have video cameras, the old pros taught us to loop the club at the top.  Swing it up high and drop it in was often heard as a swing thought.  With the advent of video and the chase for perfection of movement, that tip was lost and we instead were taught to swing the club on plane back and through.  With this shift in language and focus, a lot of new golfers lost the feel of the drop of the club at the top.  It might seem like I am talking about high handicappers, but this is not exclusive to them.  This lack of drop in the transition is consistent through players of all handicaps and takes away power from all.  The better the player, the more subtle the move and the smaller amount of power is leaked.  However, fighting the natural sequence of the swing will eventually lead to injury in players who are truly dedicated and hit a lot of balls.  They will get sore shoulders, elbows and wrists from fighting the forces of the swing instead of just hanging on to them as the players in the pictures above are doing.  
The classic swing of Bobby Jones.  Over the years, the best swings remain the same.

Many players fail to move toward the target to generate motion in their transition.  Instead, they stay centered on their right foot and must generate the club's downward motion with their upper body.  If this is you, your shoulders will look flat prior to impact and very steep just past impact. You can move to your left side and do a poor job of delivering the club head.  These players complain about being "stuck" and are told that they are sliding through the ball.  If they don't slide, their shot will go dead left, so that slide is a key defender of bad shots.  These players will get sore hips and lower backs if they hit a lot of balls.  

Hogan's swing depicts excellent balance as he clears his hips.  From this angle, you can see that a proper sequence shows a centered player, whose chest appears to be moving back or away from the clubs motion.  This is much the same as the rotation of a skater spinning. 

The skater's chest is back and behind her lead hip to produce a center despite movement the opposite way.  As she brings her arms to her body, her spin becomes faster and more efficient.  As golfers, we must offset the swinging of our arms by rotating and leaning slightly back.  If your finish shows that your chest is in front of your lead foot, you know that you lost your kinetic chain and lost speed. 

Instead of going through every scenario possible, just understand that your center starts every movement and your arms react to that movement and swing.  The swing occurs from the combination of gravity and force as they keep up with the turn of your center.  If you can go to the range and feel some swings with heavy, dead arms, you might begin to feel the first force, which is gravity.  Now add some athleticism and allow your arms to be lively, active and rotating under your shoulders.  If your right arm extends too quickly or over rotates, you will lose your ability to extend through the shot.  

True power in golf comes from speed.  Speed comes from motion and rotation while balanced.  Check out this picture of a team in a tug of war and you will instantly see that shoulder plane is crucial to power in that it represents rotation and leverage.  No matter what your size or level of strength, if you tap into your balance, rotation and leverage to create speed in your swing, you will be long!








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