There are several things which take almost no talent to do correctly, and if you can do them, you can become a better golfer and stay a better golfer. These things should be touchstones of a sort, things you check on constantly, but again which take no (or at least not much) actual skill to achieve. These are things even beginners can do.
These lists are off the top of my head.
Tier 1: No Real Talent
Grip the club properly - in the base of the fingers, with the right number of knuckles showing for your swing.
Set up properly - weight over the right part of your feet, arms hanging almost vertically, ball position forward of center.
Learn the ball flight laws. You only have to learn them once.
Learn that bad shots happen, and don't require a change to what you're doing or attempting to do.
Change your grips when they get worn, slick, hard.
Get a video camera, alignment sticks, and a few other training aids. You don't have to spend a lot of money here.
Use decent clubs. Your muscle back 2-iron is probably not helping you much.
Wear sunscreen and sunglasses. Your skin and your eyes are important.
Tier 2: Minimal Talent
Grip the club firmly while remaining athletically "loose" with the rest of your body. Tension in the wrong places can be a killer. Loose muscles are fast muscles.
Learn what "start line" and curve your ball has on any given shot. You'll be miles ahead of the game when it comes to solving problems with your swing for the rest of your life.
Practice effectively. It doesn't matter if you practice for 10 minutes or 10 hours a week, if you can practice effectively, you'll squeeze as much out of that time as you can. Nobody practices perfectly, but 90% effective is better than 30% effective. Nobody hits perfect shots when practicing, either, but you can make changes when practicing properly.
Learn the Shades of Grey and your Shot Zones.
Play quickly. Play without fear - golf is just a game we play.
Tier 3: Some Talent
Learn to putt with a backswing and downswing that are about the same size. If your ball goes too short and you feel you have to make a huge stroke, just swing it faster, but keep the through and backswing lengths the same.
Learn to hit a chip shot with some forward shaft lean and without throwing the trail wrist. I'm amazed at how few people can do this, even if they're just hitting a shot onto a range with no real target, solely trying to "do" this motion.
Learn how to make partial swings, particularly with wedges.
Learn how to have a "B" swing for days when things are not going well.
Develop a ball flight — it's okay if it changes as you continue to improve — and apply the bullet point in the section above to play it.
I allotted myself 15 minutes to write this post and come up with what I could come up with, and that's it. Please add your own in the comments below.
The point of the backswing is to turn your body and to slightly bend your trail elbow, to elevate your trail elbow (to varying degrees), and to hinge your wrists (to varying degrees).
The first bit — what's commonly called "turning your shoulders" — is the most important.
Getting the club to parallel is not even on the list.
I am constantly critiquing myself. I give a lot of good lessons. Lessons about which I feel I did really well. Lessons I'd give myself an "A" for giving; not an A+, mind you, which almost never happens. But As and A-s. And I'm a pretty harsh grader.
But today I gave a C+ lesson that I may have recovered and turned into a B+ lesson, if only by recognizing it early enough.
The details are unimportant, but basically, I found myself talking about something that was probably priority #3 or #4 for the guy. It had to do with hand speed, when really his focus is on his turn and hip drive/slide. He asked a question, and rather than my usual vocal "That's not something we need to worry about now" (or some variant of that), I answered it. Then when I was done I recognized that I'd said too much, that it was unrelated, and I backtracked a bit by saying something like this:
"Look, I just made a mistake, so I'm hoping you can overcome that by forgetting all of what I just said, because it's not related to what I'm trying to get you to do today." Then I spent extra time really simplifying even further and re-iterating the two things I wanted him to focus on quite a bit. More than I might usually do (and I repeat things a lot in a lesson).
I think that being very critical of myself is important, and today I slipped into one of the things I'm most likely to slip into: giving away too much information. It's not about the "giving away" - it's about how if the student is only going to remember three things from a lesson, I don't want one of those three things to be the irrelevant stuff where I just talk about swing theory or something that's not super-specific and super-fitting for them right then.
I'll probably follow up with the guy later on, too, to re-iterate the two thoughts I want him to focus on even more. 🙂
So, a bad lesson in my mind. The student was happy, but I was beating myself up in my head.
People often confuse tempo and rhythm, or they'll use them interchangeably. I've almost surely done it many times to this point, but here is how I intend to try to use them starting now.
Rhythm is the ratio and tempo is the speed.
Good putting strokes often have a ratio of 2:1. Again, it's the ratio of the putting stroke. You can have a 300ms backswing or a 600ms backswing, each with a 150 or a 300ms downswing, and that's 2:1. Both strokes have the same rhythm.
The tempo is the speed of the putter head. Short putts and long putts should have close to the same time (which is why, for example, I like to have a 78 BPM putting stroke), but will have very different tempos. The shorter putt will have a slower tempo than the longer putt.
I like this game.
You start with six balls.
You start from three feet.
You putt from three feet until you make a putt. If you make the putt, you take that ball and all remaining balls back three feet.
If you miss, that ball or "life" is lost.
Your "score" is the farthest distance at which you make a putt.
So for example:
Make from 3'. Six balls remain.
Make from 6'. Six balls remain.
Miss, miss, make from 9'. Four balls remain. Two lives lost.
Miss, make from 12'. Three balls remain, one life lost.
Miss, miss, miss from 15'. Your score is 12'.
Distance control is an "athletic" thing for most golfers. Unless you're Bryson DeChambeau, who knows that a 12" backstroke makes the ball go 15.739 feet (or whatever), players tend to putt best when they tap into their athleticism. That's why studies will point out how golfers putting from 25+ feet with their eyes looking at the hole often have better distance control (even though they slightly mishit some putts) than golfers looking down at the ball.
Combine both: do what Tiger Woods learned to do from his dad.
When taking his last look at the hole, he'd take a mental "snapshot" - a picture - of the hole, the green between him and the hole, his putt. Then, when he looks down at the ball, he sees the ball but he also sees the "photo" and then, per his dad's instructions, he "putts into the picture."
I do this, and almost always have, even though when I started playing golf it didn't have a "title."
I'm having a mental game expert address some of my juniors next Saturday, and I had some additional notes for him. Stuff I wanted him to include that may be particular to my program, the way I teach, my LSW information, etc.
And I thought some of you might benefit.
So here's that part of the email:
1. Practice is not playing. I'd like them to know that when they're working on their swing, they care what the mechanics are, they care what things "look" like somewhat, they care about making the best MECHANICS or something, to change or improve. But when they're playing, it's all about the results, not what it looks like. Better mechanics eventually lead to better scores, but sometimes you have to find a swing that works THAT DAY.
2. One or two bad shots is not a pattern. If you duck hook it off the first three tees, then yes, you might want to do something different the next time you get a driver out, but don't rush into changing your entire swing thought or game plan after one or two or even three slightly funny shots, or you'll be changing something after EVERY bad swing, which happens more often than people realize.
3. Have realistic expectations. PGA Tour players:
make 50% of their 8-footers and only 15% of their 20-footers. On better greens.
Average 2.8 shots from 100 yards out in the fairway. They hit it to about 18' on average.
Hit about 60% of their fairways, but almost always keep it "between the ropes."
Hit three to four "great shots" per round on a great day. Their standard is higher, but still… they don't love every shot they ever hit. They also hit shanks, chunk chips, etc. You only see the leaders on TV.
Get up and down only 2/3 times. Scrambling is tough. But they almost never take two chips or two bunker shots.
Then of course, talk about how having proper expectations for yourself will be very personal. Expectations can be for one shot or for the score for 18 holes.
4. Have proper expectations and goals for entering tournaments, but enter them BEFORE you're "ready" for them. You might have a better way of saying this, but basically, we entered Natalie in HJGT events before she was anywhere near competitive for them… so that by the time she was competitive in them (now), she'd know what they were like. It's NEVER a bad thing to play as many events where you have to put your name and a number up on a scoreboard for all to see - it can only be BAD if you have unrealistic expectations about your abilities. Go into competitive golf with the proper mindset - that you're LEARNING how to compete, LEARNING how to deal with it all, how to handle the slow pace of play, playing under the rules, playing with strangers, everything… go in with the proper mindset and it's all about growth, regardless of the outcome.
Dr. Sasho Mackenzie had a quote in the March issue of Golf magazine that I liked.
Listen, there'll always be science-deniers and the belief that none of what I or other researchers do is necessary. They're going to be eroded away. There'll be fewer and fewer of these people once the community realizes that science and technology are simply about learning and understanding better ways to swing a golf club. I no longer feel bad for the instructors who fight it, because the information's out there. If they've got a theory that's different from mine, fine. I'm open-minded. I'll listen. Maybe I've made a mistake, but if they don't have an argument other than, "I believe in my method," then okay. I can't do anything else. We can't have a logical debate. I just feel bad for the golfers they're teaching.
Unfortunately, another quote applies: You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.
I was tempted to post "I doubt it," but I have this blog to use, so I'll use it for a quick discussion of this.
I've taught a few thousand people to putt. I've never seen someone with their finger down the shaft who I would consider a "good" putter. More often - far, far more often - those with their finger down the shaft have distance control issues. The pressure they apply with that finger leads to added loft and wrist flipping, while many good putting strokes have de-lofted putters (4° turned down to 1°) and lead wrists that are slightly more in flexion than they were at setup.
I understand what people think they're feeling - the pressure of the shaft/grip being applied to that finger - but again I've got SAM data and visual data (recorded) that leads me to these types of statements.
I'm not super picky about putting grips. I putt with a pretty standard/classic reverse double overlap. My daughter is a single overlap kinda gal. I've taught claw grippers, crosshanders, etc. I could put the finger down the shaft (at least for awhile), and remain a good putter… but part of the reason I might be a good putter is that I don't put the finger down the shaft, and I've learned to control the putter swing by having a better wrist action than the one that the finger down the shaft encourages.
Again, I've never seen a good putter who can actually control distance well with the finger down the shaft.
Take it for what it's worth.
P.S. If you try to putt without the finger down the shaft for awhile, don't judge the results immediately. Give it some time. And read this:
P.P.S. Just because I've never seen it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It only means I've never seen it…
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.
2017-09-15: Edited the title. Originally it was "Lack of Flexibility and the Wall Drill". We teach this to people who DON'T think they lack flexibility, too. Even kids.
The next time you're on the range, try this:
Get out your 8-iron.
Select a target about 80-90% of your normal 8I distance away.
Grip the club with an excessive, extreme strong grip. Take one swing with the sole goal of hitting the ball to the target, without much curve.
Grip the club with an excessive, extreme weak grip. Take one swing with the sole goal of hitting the ball to the target, without much curve.
That's it. Two swings. No practice…
How'd you do?
If you can hit the ball toward the target with both grips, you likely have an innate, natural sense of clubface control. Congratulations… at least one part of golf is probably fairly simple for you.
If you cannot, you can work on developing clubface control. There are a bunch of ways to do this, and listing them or detailing them is too much for this short post here, but I am curious to hear about not only the results of the brief test above, but how you think you might go about learning clubface control.
There's a reason @david_wedzik and I trademarked the phrase "Golf is Hard"®.
Here's a par three that is often a 7- or 8-iron (but can be a 6-iron). A driver on a par five. And another par three that plays from 190-220 yards.
In all three cases, you have about +/- 2 or 3° in which to hit your shot, or else we deem the shot "a failure."
Set your expectations properly, and give yourselves the credit you deserve when you DO hit a fairway or a green. It's phenomenally difficult!
Game 1: PGA Tour Player Switcheroo
Imagine a game in which you pair two average PGA Tour players with two average 80s golfers.
Team A: the pro hits every shot that requires a Full Swing Motion (roughly every shot from 65+ yards), and the 80s golfer will play every short game shot and hit every putt.
Team B: the 80s golfer hits every Full Swing Motion shot, and the pro plays every short game shot and hits every putt.
On a typical 7000-yard golf course, what might you expect these teams to score? Which team would win?
Game 2: Personal Switcheroo
Imagine a game in which you play two golf balls.
Ball 1: You hit every full swing shot the way you normally hit them (righty if you're right-handed), and every short game shot/putt opposite handed (lefty if you're a righty).
Ball 2: You hit every full swing shot opposite handed, and every short game shot and putt normally.
With which ball will you end up shooting the lower score?
This is the AFTER golf swing of a guy in my PGA classes. The player was hitting the ball a bit low (I wasn't able to record an initial video, but I didn't see a lot of axis tilt and someone told me he had reverse axis tilt at A4…).
The instruction he got? Go to the top by not rotating his hips, but by "loading" into his trail side, from the top "stay behind the ball" and throw the clubhead at the ball.
With the ball on a tee, this raised the ball flight. Absolutely. On the shots where he didn't hit several inches behind the ball.
The instructor mentioned Johnny Miller as a sort of role model for "keeping your weight behind the ball." Johnny Miller had one of the most powerful leg drives forward ever. His pressure and weight are both well forward.
Clue: if you have a pet theory, go on YouTube or load up your stored swings in Analyzr or V1 and see how many pros actually exhibit the thing you're thinking about. If it's none, as would be the case here (with irons, anyway), perhaps move on to something else instead of making it a core piece of your instruction.
Dinosaurs don't do that. Not every old instructor is a dinosaur, but dinosaurs eventually died off. I just wish it would happen much sooner in golf than it appears to be… I'll be dead and we'll still have dinosaurs out there roaming the lesson tee. Fewer than we have now, but they won't be extinct.
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.
When a PGA Tour player shoots a really low round - 61, 63, 59… whatever… ask yourself: did the guy have to get up and down a lot or hole a lot of chips for birdie? Or did he hit a bunch of greens, leave himself short putts, and have a decent day with the putter?
When a PGA Tour player needs to rely on his short game, he probably didn't have a great round. He may have salvaged a decent round, but he didn't have a great round.
Great rounds - and good scoring over the long haul - are a result of the full swing. Hitting greens, and hitting it closer to the hole where you have stress-free pars, are key. The days when you make a bunch of putts or happen to stick it close? Those are your great rounds. The rest are just good rounds.
I'm not sure anyone has ever chipped in six times to shoot a net 65, but they've stuck a bunch of shots close to do it a ton of times.
Your short game is your crutch. It's there to keep a great round going, or it's there to bandage up a bad round and keep it being an "okay" round.
Your full swing is the main determinant of your score. The days you hit it well are the days you have good rounds. If you have a little luck or hole a few putts, they become great rounds.
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."
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.