Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keep It Simple

We've all heard the advice to keep it simple and when it comes to swinging the club in competition, it is great advice.  There needs to be a level of expertise that allows a player to keep it simple, which seems to be a bit of a contradiction.  By that I mean that players who manage poor positions, off plane swings, shut club faces or bad habits will have a hard time keeping it simple.  As you learn to play and compete in the sport of golf, your goal should be to simplify your swing.

How can you keep it simple?  First, understand that every motion in golf is a swing.  Here are some of the definitions of a swing by Merriam Webster.
intransitive verb
: to move freely to and fro especially in suspension from an overhead support
a : to move along rhythmically
b : to start up in a smooth vigorous manner <ready to swing into action>
: to hit or aim at something with a sweeping arm movement 
The words freely, rhythmically, smooth, vigorous and sweeping are all good descriptions of a good golf swing and important in your ability to keep it simple.  Let's look at the first descriptor, freely.  Freely is perhaps the least taught and learned aspect of swinging the golf club.  So much instruction is based on restriction of movement which often produces tension.  What if we simply allowed players to be self taught with no self consciousness.  How would they turn out?  Some who come to mind are Bubba Watson and Ben Hogan.  As a teaching professional, I don't believe that learning the game completely by yourself is the best way, but I also see the need for self-discovery, individuality, a freedom to swing and the idea that the best teacher is the ball.  Because I learned much of my teaching in the John Jacobs Golf Schools, the ball as a teacher was ingrained in me.  What does that mean?  It means that you approach your golf swing by figuring out how to make an impact that produces the ball flight you want to produce.  Here is a link to an article about Ben Hogan.  In it he makes the statement,
''Dig it out of the dirt, the way I did.'' 

in response to a question about how to play from a young pro.  Hogan's confidence came from his mastery.  Hogan's mastery was based on his hard work and his ownership over his methods.  There were no shortcuts nor was there reliance upon anyone but himself. He learned to play by learning to control the ball.  Can we step back in time a bit and remember that learning to control the ball is the main goal?  Learning a motion for the motion's sake isn't simple and doesn't lead to a swing that will hold up under the pressures of competition. 

How does Hogan's method point to simplicity?  In that it is his and his alone.  His swing was his signature more than any other player in time.  A signature of most good ball strikers is the ease with which they swing.  It might look easy, but they are actually going as fast as they can with balance.  Watch this video, which asks the pros who they think is the best ball striker.  They mention so many names; Nick Price, Luke Donald, Tiger, Yani Tseng, Boo Weekly, Heath Slocum, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, John Senden, Bubba Watson, Billy Haas, Joe Durant, Tom Watson, Matt Kucher, etc.  No two of these players make similar swings, yet they are all admired by their peers for how they hit it.  

The point I'm making is, don't copy another player and don't worry about making perfect swings.  Instead, find what makes your swing work and focus on that.  Nick Price has one of the quickest swings in golf and Ernie Els one of the slowest.  What matters is that they produce their own tempo each time they swing the club.  Bill Haas and Bubba both have very active feet, while many teachers today are insisting that students swing flat footed.  The reason that all the pros listed above look completely different is that they are all different.  Each has a different body type, more or less flexibility, past injuries and varied strength and balance abilities.   If Bubba tried to swing like Boo or visa versa, it would be laughable.  Here is a great video from the 2013 Masters of 30 minutes of swings.  I've watched them all and each is unique with differing rhythms, shapes, planes, power and lengths.  As you train to hit good golf shots, make sure you find a pro who teaches you as an individual with the traits you bring to the tee.  You can pick and choose things that others do to bring to your motion, but in the end, your swing will be uniquely yours.  Your goal then is to keep it simple, balanced, tension-free and rhythmic.  Those are the types of thoughts that will help you in competition and keep your motion free, rhythmic and predictable.

The word motion is an important one.  The swing is about creating a motion that produces power in a predictable manner.  I have the opportunity to watch many great junior and college golfers.  People often ask me what I'm looking for when I recruit.  There isn't one thing or swing, but all of us on the recruiting trail fall in love with players who have effortless power.  Of course, we all know that power isn't effortless, but players who make the swing appear that way are fun to watch.  They generally play golf without upper body tension.  They usually have a fairly steady head.  Their lower body is engaged and stable, at least until impact.  Their movements appear to flow and the ball makes a great noise when struck.  

Check out this video of Na Yeon Choi and see if you can find any tension in her swing.   Did you watch it?  She addresses the ball with a straight left arm, just as we are all taught, but watch the video again and you will notice that her left arm is very soft as she swings the club.  In fact, it is slightly bent as she makes her transition.  Look closely at the video at :18 or :22 and you can see it.  Here is another shot of Choi's swing in slo mo.   In this you can clearly see the softness I am pointing out.  She keeps her lower body stable, strong and engaged, which allows her to have a steady head, a big, centered turn and a relaxed and fast upper body motion.  As Brandel Chamblee points out in the first video, she has beautiful tempo and it remains constant throughout her swing.  Her move is a great example of keeping it simple.  She moves freely and rhythmically.  She is smooth and vigorous and she sweeps the club through the ball.  All in all, it is a beautiful motion.  

As I watch junior and college players, I'm struck by the unneeded tension I see in so many of their swings.  I believe the tension is a product of over teaching, reliance upon position versus motion and a misunderstanding of how to produce power.  The tension that I'm talking about occurs in joints that should remain supple, namely the shoulders and elbows.  This tension makes players appear to have a higher center of gravity, so you can often see upon set up over the ball that a player will not produce power.  It is much like skiing, which is another activity I love.  Great skiers carry a low center of gravity and appear relaxed in their backs and shoulders.  Powerful golfers tend to sink into their legs and hips and look solid on their feet.  Tension in the shoulders and elbows also leads to softness in the wrists.  It is pretty tough to keep firm wrists if your elbows are locked and your shoulders are tense.  Firm wrists are one constant of all good ball strikers.  Tension in the shoulders also prohibits a full turn and causes the shoulder plane to flatten.  Both of these problems will cause power leaks or make a player manage too many movements in the swing.  

The main message of today's blog is to figure out how to tap into your own strengths and use them to create a rhythmic, powerful swing.  Be aware of where you place tension in your set up and swing.  Find simple thoughts to use on the course that focus on target, balance or tempo.  Take a step back from your mechanics and view yourself in a big picture.  In the end, learn to trust yourself and your swing and keep it simple.

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