Very good home-run hitting swing on the left. Better golf swing on the right.
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About this blog
I often say that I have an ocean of knowledge, but all a student needs in a lesson is a cup.
This blog is for droplets. Little things I see and notice while giving lessons that may or may not benefit you specifically, but which strike me enough to post here about it.
Entries in this blog
Golfers are more confused than ever for two reasons.
- Never before has there been so much information available to the average golfer.
- The "bad instructors" have as much of a platform as the "good instructors."
The two kind of go hand in hand. A golfer will hear "stay behind the ball and roll your hands over to hit a draw" from one guy while he hears about how he's got to get his weight forward and follow through more like Zach Johnson from some other guy.
Just a question right now, because I'm actually going to post this in Swing Thoughts as it's a bit more involved than what I want for my "Droplets" blog: which do you think is better (and why): lessons that cost you $45/45min. every week or lessons that cost $120/hour every month or two?
There's no one "right" answer.
You can get better at any age.
Many here would trade their swing for this one…
I gave a lesson to a guy the other day who said he wanted to learn "how to play golf."
He was being sarcastic, as he's played golf for 40 years or so, has made many nice changes and improvements to his golf swing, and is playing quite well for his age. Despite this, his texts from the day before were of the panicking type.
I gave him a lesson. I wanted him to do two things. First, I wanted him to take his left shoulder down a bit more so his head didn't drift back and up during the backswing. Then, I wanted him to slide his hips forward an inch, two at most, further forward on the downswing. The former would clean up contact, the latter would bring the ball flight up.
Three balls in I'm hearing about how "ecstatic" he is. Ten balls in and I'd heard the word six or seven times. We switched to the driver. The success continued. We added the hip piece. The success continued.
Back in "the room" I drew some arrows and lines and measured some things in the video and made his before/after photos with notes. Then he said something which prompted me to look at his first lesson about sixteen months prior.
What he saw didn't surprise me at all, but shocked him quite a bit.
He saw essentially the same arrows. The same lines. The same measurements. The same notes.
He'd been working so long on his "latest piece" (all summer, really), that he kind of forgot about his "first" priority piece. That thing that will always tend to creep up on you and nag you. That thing you always have to watch for.
Long story short, if you're struggling, look back at your old images and notes and videos. Odds are, you may just need to remind yourself of something you thought you'd licked previously.
When we work with students, we often tell them that we don't expect them to hit the first 20 or 30 balls "better" or even as good as they were before, we just expect them to hit them "differently." Sometimes that "difference" is better, but often it's worse.
The difference is often (not always… it depends very much on what the change is…) an insight into how good a golfer can ever expect to be. You see, some golfers are just better at what @david_wedzik and I call "finding the golf ball."
Finding the golf ball just means that a golfer has that "something" that lets them hit the ball reasonably solidly even when not making their normal golf swing. For example, if I put the ball six inches closer to a golfer, or on a sidehill lie, or make them grip down five inches on their 7-iron, or completely change their grip… golfers who can find the golf ball will still, far more often than not, be able to hit the ball pretty solidly.
You can test yourself by doing some different things. Here are a few tests. Complete them all with your 6-iron:
- Hit the ball with just your right and just your left hand.
- Put three balls down about six inches apart and perpendicular to your target line. Address the middle ball normally, then try to hit either the outside or inside ball.
- Put a ball on top of a pencil (the normal kind, not a golf pencil) and hit it.
- Put your hands four inches apart on the grip.
- Make an exaggerated swing where you sway way off the golf ball and move your head a foot back on the backswing.
If you can do these things and hit the ball "okay" (you're not looking to hit the ball as well as usual… just on the clubface and occasionally solidly), you have the ability to "find the golf ball." That doesn't guarantee anything, but you are more likely to have a higher ability ceiling. Golf is still an athletic endeavor: hand-eye coordination, muscle control, proprioception, etc. are still important.
If you cannot, you can still be a great golfer, but you may need more time and possibly more determination/effort to improve, as changes won't take hold as quickly.
If you do not practice properly, you probably won't get any better. You'll probably say "that instruction doesn't work" (even though you're not doing it).
The worst culprits are often the better players. They make two swings slow motion and think they have it. I'm easy at first, gently reminding them. Then I get a little firmer. Then firmer yet.
But ultimately I can't go full drill sergeant on them, and whether they practice properly after having the benefits, reasons, process, etc. explained, it's up to them.
Oh, and… the title?
Fixing one thing like this fixed a lot of other things that come after.
Proper prioritization is important. For this golfer, fixing this part of the backswing made a lot of later compensations unnecessary.
I watch my daughter, @NatalieB, play golf. Sometimes better than others, but this year, almost always in the 90s (and once, so far, in the 80s). She's playing from 5,000 to 5,300 yards, and she'll take 36-42 putts, and miss the green with chip shots, and hit the occasional shot that goes 20 feet when she's 140 yards out…
And yet, she breaks 100 virtually every time. The other day she had two four-putts and a few three-putts, started with two triples and a quad in the first four holes… and shot 95.
And yet, full grown men playing from 6200 yards who hit their driver farther proportionally than she does from 5200 yards sometimes struggle to break 100. My gut, instant reaction is often something like "my goodness, you have to play some pretty bad golf to not break 100!"
But then I consider a few things. In no particular order…
- Generally speaking, @NatalieB advances her golf ball. It might be 120 yards at a time, but the truly bad 20-footers are few and far between.
- Generally speaking, because @NatalieB's good drives top out at under 200 yards, she doesn't hit them sideways too far.
- Generally speaking, @NatalieB aims away from all trouble, even if it puts her slightly in the rough. She just tries to hit the green from even 30 yards out, and eliminates nearly all risk with most shots.
And that's it. That's pretty much how Natalie can break 100 without too much trouble.
So why can't others? Why can't grown men, while a little girl can? And the reasons are simply the opposite of what's stated above.
- Guys struggling to break 100 generally don't advance their golf ball. They will flub more shots than Nat will in a round. When you're looking at shooting 90 to 95, five flubbed shots put you close to 100. They remove any margin of error.
- Guys struggling to break 100, when they hit their clubs, are not accurate. They might hit their ball 250 yards, which even if hit the same angle offline, travels much further offline!
- Guys struggling to break 100 don't take the conservative lines to every hole, every fairway, every shot.
Long story short, and the real purpose of this post, which is borderline "too long to be a droplet," is this: if your goal is just to break 100, you could probably do that within a few weeks: focus on hitting your hybrids and irons somewhat solidly and putt and chip "okay." However, if your goal is to play good golf for the rest of your life, and to keep improving, just trying to break 100 is the wrong way to go. It'll set you back. You won't learn to hit your driver or longer clubs, you won't learn to take the right risks, and you won't learn to play the game the way you'll play the rest of your life.
We worked on his backswing. His pivot. Reducing the sway. And a little bit of setup work (the grip is quite a bit stronger - this player may need to reduce the strength eventually, but not now).
This speaks to prioritization. That doesn't always mean fixing the first part of the swing that goes wrong, but often, that's kind of how it feels, because everything after that becomes a compensation.
I often see said here on the forum that people will "try things" and "if it works, they adopt it."
While occasionally that's fine, more often than not it leads to a destructive path that hinders long-term growth. Things that work "right away" are often band-aids, or compensations.
Take this golfer for example:
On the left, "his swing." No lessons, just an athlete that "figured some stuff out" that let him at least hit the balls somewhat solidly. He started forward, stayed forward, and moved even more forward.
The problem, even with the forward ball position, is that he got no height on his shots and took massive divots. He couldn't hold greens, and he often didn't know what shape his shot was going to be. His driver, well, let's just say he liked hitting 3-wood.
This golfer, due to no real fault of anyone, "figured out" what worked for him, but in the long term, it really wasn't what was right.
Be careful of "that seemed to work for me" on the range. Often, either:
- You're not doing what you think you're doing (the old "feel ain't real" bites us in the ass again), or
- It might actually be a band-aid type deal that's harmful long term.
This golfer is fortunate: he's not so far along into golf that he can't make these changes. And he's athletic enough to "find the ball" even while making changes. And, third, well he has faith in me to put him on the right path.
A little early extension - "goat humping" - isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Justin Rose with a mid-iron:
Zach Johnson with a Hybrid:
Charley Hoffman with a hybrid:
Tiger with a Driver:
Rory hitting an iron:
Goat humping goes awry when:
- It becomes excessive.
- It prevents the hips and torso from opening up at the proper rates.
But no, your hips and head do not need to stay absolutely flush against their "walls."
But, unfortunately, a sinking tide lowers all ships.
And that's what we have in the golf industry.
We have a lot of golf instructors that just flat out suck at their jobs. They're giving bad advice to their students. They're dishing out tips they seem to have found in Golf Digest that month. They're actively making their players worse. They're using clichés and myths because they've never spent any time thinking about or investigating for themselves.
Worst yet, some of those terrible instructors are some of the more well acclaimed. They may have a big junior program, or win a lot of awards, or charge one of the higher rates in the area.
And golfers don't know. Why should they? There's no objective measure to gauge a golf instructor. And even if a golfer goes to an instructor for several lessons, and don't improve, they just blame themselves, rarely asking why the guy they paid didn't get them any results (beyond the lightening of their wallets).
This golfer is working on not delivering the clubhead AND his hands from so deep:
Predictably, he often hit BIG pushes, BIG draws/hooks, and more than his fair share of shanks.
Do I eventually want him to swing like the golfer on the right?
Absolutely not. But he - like you - has made hundreds of thousands of swings like the one on the left. If he exaggerates in practice, and swings INward more than he eventually should, I'm good with it. I encourage it, in fact.
Golf is hard™.
Change is hard.
If you want to get better at golf, it takes time, it takes effort, it takes motivation, and it takes a commitment.
It's not something that's going to come easily.
Now, I do encourage golfers to work smarter, not harder. There are a LOT of drills you can do hitting a cotton ball, or making swings against a wall, or in a mirror, in five or ten minutes a day at home or in your office.
But you've gotta put in at least that much time. Golfers who come to lessons and then almost never practice outside of their lessons are wasting their money and time.
I once heard a story of a kid in Florida who practiced his backswing (at the range, with a ball at his feet) for nearly three hours.
Let me say that again with a little added emphasis: he practiced his backswing for nearly three hours.
He didn't hit a single ball. Didn't even make a downswing. He recorded, used a mirror, checked his video, and made backswings for nearly 180 consecutive minutes.
The backswing is an important part of the golf swing. A lot of golfers get off track with the backswing, and then must undergo a series of compensations from there until well after impact to hit the ball anything like they want.
So, often, practicing the backswing is important. It's often a student's priority. For example, this student:
He would roll the clubhead under the plane during the backswing, push it across or over the top of the plane later, and then just swing left from there. The balls were actually landing at the left corner of what's visible in this photo, some 60 yards left of where it appeared he was aiming.
Anyway, that golfer now looks like this in practice:
He, like almost everyone I have practicing backswing things, does what I call the Three-Step Backswing Practice Routine. Okay, I don't call it that; I just made that term up now.
- Make a S-L-O-W rehearsal backswing where you look in a mirror, turn your neck to look at your hands, or whatever you need to do to do it properly (which is often exaggerated). The intent here is to make the swing the way you want to, and see how it feels, and check it right then by looking at whatever body part(s) you need to. Reset in your address position.
- Make a S-L-O-W rehearsal backswing looking at the golf ball. Ask yourself mentally if the backswing was "good." Reset in your address position. If the answer was no, go back to step 1 or repeat step 2. If it was "yes," move on to step 3.
- Make a S-L-O-W rehearsal backswing looking at the golf ball. Ask yourself mentally if the backswing was "good," and then if the answer is "yes," reward yourself by hitting the golf ball. I don't even care much at what speed you hit the golf ball (it depends on your ability to hit it somewhat cleanly so you don't get frustrated).
You see, I found that I could get students to make awesome improvements to their backswing when I said "okay, rehearse, make a good backswing." They'd do it, and it would be perfect. But then if my instruction was to "make that backswing and hit the ball," they'd lose 80%+ of what was good, because their focus shifted dramatically toward "hit the ball."
By breaking it down and making them think "rehearsal backswing, reward if good," it prevents that shift to the golf ball from ever really occurring. Forcing the golfer to ask themselves "was that good?" before being allowed to make a downswing allows them to focus on making the backswing properly without worrying about the golf ball.
And then, most of the time, the student makes a much better downswing because the compensations are minimized or gone. In this case, for example, we didn't spend one second talking about the downswing, and yet…
So remember, three steps to improving your backswing without boring yourself out of your ever-loving mind:
- Make a rehearsal backswing while looking at it and making sure it's good.
- Make a rehearsal backswing while looking at the ball.
- Make a rehearsal backswing and, if you can say "yes" when you ask yourself if it was as good as it was in #1 and #2, hit the ball as a reward.
You’ve probably heard Tiger talk about “saving” a shot as he comes into impact. You’d think it’s all but impossible, given how little time a golf shot takes, and the speed of the motion. But, Tiger said, “You can fix it, on the way down, or halfway down, or right before impact, you fix it.”
That comes from the behind-the-scenes peek from the famous Time interview with Tiger Woods: http://scoregolf.com/blog/lorne-rubenstein/the-goods-on-woods/ .
Tiger, it turns out, is wrong.
The golf swing is too fast. Even if you could instantly form a thought and direct your muscles to do something, it quite literally takes too long for the nerve impulse to travel from your brain to your muscles for it to do anything past about A5.
That's right: if your brain hasn't told your muscles to do something by A5 (or when your lead arm is parallel to the ground on the downswing), it ain't even gonna begin happening prior to impact.
Several biomechanists and neurologists agree.
Quick one today.
Below, you'll see a player whose right arm stays pretty straight a long time. This leads to the right elbow getting a bit too far around/behind, and then it gets stuck there on the downswing. The player compensates by tipping the head back (as the right arm stays flexed a long time), and the left arm actually bends slightly too so she doesn't crash down into the ground.
In the improved image, you'll note the right elbow flexes sooner. This limits the "late flexing" of the right elbow, which limits how far retracted or around/behind it gets, which helps to minimize how trapped it gets, which helps to minimize how bent it remains at impact, which helps to minimize how much the left arm is bent.
In other words, the sequencing is:
- Right elbow doesn't flex quickly enough.
- Because it doesn't flex quite early enough, it has to catch up and flexes more late.
- Because it flexes more later in the backswing, this pulls the right elbow back around/behind the player.
- Because it's back around/behind, it's trapped and doesn't extend at the proper rate on the downswing.
- Because it's not extending, the player has to get the club to the ground so she does so by tipping her head back.
- Because she's tipping her head back, to avoid taking a thick divot or hitting the ball fat, the player bends the left arm to shallow the club.
That's a lot of "becauses" above. The only way to get one more would have been if setup had been the root cause, I suppose.
This highlights how important it is to get to the root cause. You could have noticed any one of the things seen in the "because" phrases, but attacking the problem there isn't attacking the root cause.
Now, this was a pretty extreme example. Most of the time there aren't quite that many "becauses." But, it happens, and good instructors have to be aware of it.
Far too many people judge the quality of their practice by the quality of the shots they hit when they practice. I choose to judge the quality of my practice by how much I succeeded at learning and improving.
I've had great range sessions where I didn't hit a single ball terribly solidly. I've had great range sessions where I didn't hit a ball, with a 6-iron, over 50 yards. I've had great range sessions where I know I'm going to hit a bunch of shanks, and when I do, take that as proof that I'm changing the thing I'm trying to change.
There's no scorecard on the range, and nobody hands out a trophy for a great range session. But if there was a trophy, it should say "Most Improved."
I know we've been talking lately about how setup is "automatic" (or it's not ), but I must say… I fix a lot of setup positions.
I don't save out the images from all of my lessons. In fact, only a small percentage of the time do I feel I've done something I want to CC to myself for various reasons. But of those lessons, well, take a look:
I'll often tell students:
Okay, I'm going to ask you a question. Before I do, i have to tell you nobody's gotten it wrong, ever. I've asked thousands, so the pressure is on as you don't want to be the first… ready? Here's the question: how much raw athletic skill - how much just natural athletic ability - does it take to set up properly?
They'll answer "none" or "hardly any" or something like that, and I'll say "Great, you're right! You just have to remember to do it, and know how to do it."
I fix a LOT of setup issues.
Here's a student many will tell you "lacks flexibility." He thinks it (sometimes, when I haven't seen him in awhile ), other instructors have told him he lacks flexibility, etc.
His hips sway right, his torso turns about 75°, and he lifts his arms up to "finish his backswing."
It's a bit better in the left photo here because he's been working on this for quite some time now, but even still you can see those trademark things: hips sway back, no secondary tilt, head rises, arms lift, turn isn't great.
On the right you can see him doing the wall drill. You set up near a wall. You note how much space you have between your trail hip and the wall, and then you put your arms across your chest and make a backswing while you strive to increase that distance. Make the gap between your trail hip and the wall get bigger. Voilà! Secondary Axis Tilt, hips going forward during the backswing (yes, a bit too much, but this is a drill, exercise, or "feel"), head not going up, more torso turn.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
As always, these are actual swings, not posed shots.
This golfer's wrists collapsed like crazy at the top of the backswing. They don't anymore. He also had trouble hitting out at the golf ball at all.
The fix? A bit of a two-in-one solution: TURN MORE.
The golfer was bending the wrists so much to try to feel that the clubhead was getting near parallel somewhere. Now, he doesn't have to, and yet his arms have gained not only more depth, but more distance and can thus generate more speed as well.
I'll often say to people that almost everyone can name the 17 things they don't like about their golf swing.
The trick is prioritizing the most important one, and realizing that often the other things are compensations for that high-priority item, not separate "bad" things in need of fixing.
P.S. Yes, the golfer is exaggerating a bit more than I might like in the first "after" photo. Hips have gone forward more than I might want to see, turn is a bit longer than I might want, etc. But I'll take that over the "before" particularly as he knows he's doing it slow and exaggerating it.
Here's the swing sequence (from Analyzr) of a pretty good golfer. He took second place individually at the conference championships a few weeks ago.
Here's a larger look at A3 and A4 from DL:
Now, if the title of the post didn't totally give it away, a lot of golfers here would be able to spot the flaw here in a heartbeat: the right elbow migrates well around the body and gets a bit trapped on the downswing, resulting in a baby flip, not the best clubface or path control, and some more inconsistent shots than this player otherwise deserves.
I adjusted setup a bit, yes:
From there, we got to work using The Tube.
The Tube (patent pending, trademark pending ) is not a fix-all for this problem, but it will help this golfer TURN more as he can't make anything like a normal backswing (length) without turning more. Turning more reduces the need to pull the arms around himself, and also moves his shirt seam out of the way.
As a by product, without even talking or working specifically on the downswing…
Earlier today I fit a college player and a reasonably good putter with an Edel putter. His putter was a typical blade - the old PING/Cameron/Everyone-Has-a-Version classic blade putter with some heel/toe weighting.
He could aim his putter, from about ten feet (bear in mind that the laser reflects back over the same ten feet, doubling the error), to about four inches outside the right edge of the cup. Not great, but not as bad as we've seen from many. His putter had a single, solitary thin line on the top part of the putter.
What was his best fit putter? It was an almost identical Edel putter: the Umpqua head with no lines or dots at all. In fact, when I gave him just a dot - I like to give some players a bit more help to center the ball up beside just the heel/toe weighting - he aimed it about an inch right of the cup. Trying something, I drew a line on the putter. Bam! Back out to a cup right. Take the line away? Center of the cup every time.
Sometimes the tiniest of things makes a fairly big difference. Where it pulled his focus and attention, I don't know, but it resulted in some pretty big changes. Just a little dot.
P.S. His putter was also pretty badly weighted for him, too, or else I'd have recommended he find some way to make that putter work and save the cost of the Edel putter.
My men's golf team won the AMCC Championship this past weekend with a two-day score of 637 (keeping the best four out of five scores). That works out to 79.625 on a fairly difficult layout at Avalon Lakes Golf & Country Club.
ALGCC is a Pete Dye course that, like many Pete Dye courses, is very target-golf oriented. Dye seems to love to use visual trickery to goad players into going for more than they can handle. Sure, it rewards the long drive into the very narrow alley way between water and bunkers, but it punishes a slight miss more heavily than the reward of being 20 yards closer to the green for the approach shot.
So, my guys worked their butts off during the practice round(s) to learn a few things:
- How far was it to the various hazards and things.
- What lines should they take off the tee that kept them short of those kinds of things.
- Which side of the hole do you favor with your second shot, even if you're going for the green.
- How did the greens react to shots:
- From around the greens.
- From the fairway.
- From the rough.
That's all we did. We didn't keep a score. We didn't talk about which pins to attack, or which holes to attack. In our minds, every hole presented the same opportunity: a chance to get a Green in Regulation (GIR is King, after all) and a chance to make a two-putt par. Occasionally they'd hit one close (even if aiming for the center of the green), and occasionally they'd reach a par five in two, and sometimes they'd make a longer putt for a birdie.
When they were out of position, I stressed getting an nGIR and playing to give themselves a reasonable par putt. Sometimes reasonable was 30 feet. Other times it was four or five.
I don't think that my team necessarily hit the ball too much better than the other players on the other top two or three teams. I got to see a fair amount of their players, and they hit a lot of good shots, too. They certainly weren't 21 strokes worse (nearly three shots per player per round), or worse - the winning margin the men created for themselves.
I think it came down to the GamePlan, and that is the only credit I'll take in helping them win their fifth straight AMCC Championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA finals in May (in Rochester, NY).