ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ty Tryon is Going to Second Stage

This is just a feel-good story to me. I want to see Ty Tryon back on the Tour... and he's taken the first step, shooting 15-under during the first stage of Q-School, at the Grasslands Course in Lakeland FL.

Tryon hasn't played in a PGA Tour event since 2003, the last time he had a Tour card. He was the "can't miss kid" when he first made the cut as an amateur at the 2001 Honda Classic, but golf hasn't been particularly kind to him since then.

Ty is originally from Raleigh NC. That's about two hours from me, over in Charles Boyer's territory (Me and Old Man Par). It's nice to see one of our good ole North Carolina boys doing good, especially one who's struggled so much.

Congrats, Ty! Keep it going!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Michael Whan the Man for the Job?

Here’s an interesting fact: Most major breakthroughs (scientific, business, or otherwise) are made when someone changes fields. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the way things are “supposed” to be done, they bring their existing methodology into the conversation and begin to adapt it to their new field.

Of course, their new field is inevitably adapted as well. That’s when the breakthroughs happen.

I don’t know much about Mike Whan beyond the bits and pieces now appearing on the Web. Stephanie Wei posted “A Not-So-Revealing Interview with Mike Whan,” an interesting exchange with the new guy on the block that has the most personal info I’ve read so far. (Sorry, I can’t give you a specific link for it. If it’s not on the front page when you check, search her blog for “Whan.”)

What stands out to me in this interview is how willing he is to say “I don’t know.” He says he’s looking for challenges, because he says he’s used to having them; and he seems to see challenges as the real opportunities. He seems less interested in appearing to be “the man” and more interested in just seeing what he can do. What seems to impress him the most is the passion of those involved in the LPGA.

I’ve been a big believer that they should have just left Marty Evans in charge. I like what she’s done so far. But I like the fact that Michael Whan was totally under the radar, not even being mentioned as a possibility. And I like it when I hear him say he doesn’t know everything.

Do you hear the sound of some old dry cocoons cracking open? The next year or two could be very interesting for the LPGA… and that could be a very good thing indeed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Feeling the Start of the Downswing

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

Once you know how the lower body behaves―and the barrel drill from yesterday will teach you that―you’re faced with the more difficult problem of finding out exactly what that behavior feels like to you. This may be the biggest source of confusion in modern teaching, simply because many teachers have a predetermined idea about how it should feel… and that idea is based on their teaching theory. For example, if you’re teaching a lefthander that the left side should drive the downswing, you’re automatically going to describe the lower body action in terms of the left leg “driving” or “releasing through.”

But what if it doesn’t feel that way to everybody?

Here’s my “feel drill,” which I believe will help you identify how the downswing move feels to you. You don’t need a club to do this, so you can do it almost anywhere and as often as necessary until you determine just what you want to feel when you start down.

Lefthander Starting Down Practice Setup

The setup is pretty simple. Find a door jamb and take your normal stance with your left heel about 6” from the jamb, then make a full coil with your upper body and place your left hand on the inside of the door jamb. It’s alright if your right heel needs to come off the ground when you coil.

Now, all you have to do is try to turn your shoulders back to your setup position. Resist with your left hand and pay attention to which muscles seem to be starting the downswing.

I bet most of you are going to be surprised. I thought the left leg would start the downswing with a push, but I felt the right leg pulling me through the swing. (I’m a rightie, of course, but that’s the “leftie explanation” of what I felt.)

In retrospect, it makes sense. It’s basic physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I want the left shoulder to start pushing the club forward, so the right leg starts pulling the body around. That’s the most opposite motion available.

Knowing this is an important part of the puzzle, but it doesn’t give us the full answer to our question. Just what does that pulling motion feel like? Take a look at this diagram, drawn as if I were standing in front of you and facing the doorway:

How the Lower Body Moves Through the Downswing

As you can see, there are several aspects to this movement. The right foot is rolling over to the outside, toward the target, which could feel to you as if it’s digging into the ground. The right knee swings to the right, and it also straightens a little; you may feel one or the other, or both. The right hip moves back (some teachers call this “opening” the hip) and it also moves upward a little. Again, you may feel either or both.

You might feel any one or any combination of these actions. That’s the beauty of this drill: You can use it to help you identify just what combination you’re feeling.

For example, I feel my knee swinging out and causing my foot to roll. Because of this, I want to start my downswing by feeling that action. I don’t have to get technical and watch to see how much they move, or if one moves first, or anything like that; all I need to do is identify the feel of the movement, then… well, feel that when I start down. And if at any time my feel changes (which happens to golfers every now and then), I can just do the “feel drill” again to discover the new feel.

So, use the barrel drill to learn the proper mechanics of your lower body movement, then use the “feel drill” to determine how those mechanics feel to you. Once you do that, you can swing by feel, which is the Holy Grail of golf. You’ll know your mechanics are ok, and you can just focus on the shot you’re trying to make.

These last few posts should have provided enough material to keep everyone busy practicing this week, so I'm going to take a brief break from the series. That will also give you a few days to post comments and let me know if I covered things thoroughly enough. Consider this the first "season" of Project Brian; I'll continue with the second season next week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swinging in a Barrel

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the photos as if you were looking in a mirror.)

This post is the first of two intended to help Brian learn proper hip and leg movement. I think so many players are confused because too many teachers confuse mechanics and feel. Here’s my approach: Today we focus on mechanics, tomorrow on feel. It’s simpler that way.

Why? Because the best way to teach proper mechanics is by using drills that feel nothing like your actual swing. A drill usually isolates certain groups of muscles, while your whole body is involved in the feel of your swing. The drill allows you to focus on a single part of the movement; but when you work on feel, you always want to work on the total swing.

For lack of better terms, mechanics are components while feel is holistic. Got it?

Now for the drill. It’s an old one, but very effective. It’s called “swinging in a barrel.” Unlike the feel drill I’ll give you in the next post, this requires a club and room to swing, so you’ll need to go outside. (However, you don’t have to hit balls if you don’t want to, so you can do it in the backyard.) Let me give you a brief description―it’s really simple, so I haven’t included an illustration―and then I’ll tell you how it helps.

Stand with your feet just slightly wider than shoulder-width, then squat. You don’t have to do deep knee bends, but you want to bend your knees more than you would normally… much more, enough to make you about 5-6” shorter. Call it a half-squat.

Now, from this position, practice your golf swing. It’s that simple.

This drill does several things:
  • It severely limits your hip movement, which will slow down those spinning hips and require you to use your hands and arms more. That means you have to “swing” the club rather than “hit” with it.
  • Most people think more hip movement means more knee movement, but excess hip movement actually takes your knees out of the swing. The more your hips move, the straighter your knees get. Because you can’t use your hips as much in this drill, it forces you to use your knees a lot more. Specifically, your right knee will move toward the ball on the backswing while the left knee stabilizes you; then your left knee will move toward the ball on the downswing while your right knee returns to a stable position. It’s automatic; you can’t help it!
  • Your feet will stay on the ground better. Because the hips are restrained and the knees move in more of a side-to-side motion rather than twisting and straightening, your feet will “roll” from one side to the other.
  • The “rolling” motion of the knees and feet will allow the hips to turn without moving much from side-to-side. Result: More stability during the swing, because your body weight stays between your feet.
  • As a bonus, it will also help you improve your ability to coil and maintain your spine angle.
I like this drill because it accomplishes so much with so little effort. Once you take your stance, it’s almost impossible to do it wrong, plus it teaches you just how little movement is required in order to get a full golf swing. Most weekend players have heard the pros say they need to use their whole body when they swing, but using your whole body is NOT the same as making violent lurches at the ball. This drill will help you tame those bad impulses quickly, because you can make a practice swing using this drill any time you need it, even during a round.

And Brian, I bet you won’t come “over-the-top” when you do this. You may uncock your wrists too early, which can cause you to pull shots, but that’s just a further indication that you haven’t been swinging the club properly. First things first―get rid of the excessive hip movement, then you can learn correct hand and arm action.

Working with this drill gives you a better idea of what good hip, leg, and foot action is like, but it doesn’t teach you how your body will feel when you move during a normal swing. In the next post, I’ll help you “feel” better about your swing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Dreaded Chicken Wing of Death

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the photos as if you were looking in a mirror.)

One thing that Brian mentioned is a persistent problem with a chicken wing. For those of you unfamiliar with this legendary creature, Brian has thoughtfully provided a picture of the “fowl” practice. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

The Dreaded Chicken Wing of Death!

A chicken wing shows up at the end of your swing and can be caused by many things but, as a general rule, a chicken wing is a symptom rather than a cause. You end up in the wing position because you did something else wrong; that’s why attempts to “cure” the wing by doing drills such as holding a spare glove between your upper arm and chest never seem to result in a permanent fix.

If you want to get rid of your chicken wing, you’ve got to fix the real source of the problem.

A chicken wing is evidence that you aren’t swinging the club; rather, you’re trying to muscle the club through the point of contact. Poor foot and leg action can also contribute to the problem, because it’s hard to swing the club when your body is out of position.

When you chicken wing at impact, your elbow is pointed in the wrong direction. Grab a club and take up your address position; where does your elbow point? Bend your elbow if you aren’t sure. I bet a straight line from your wrist through your elbow points behind you, at a slight angle away from your body. Where does a chicken wing elbow point? Usually toward the hole.

That means your impact position is nowhere near your setup position. Es bad mojo, mon!

Remember the last post, the one about fanning the club open on the backswing? Take your setup again and just fan the clubface open. (You can do this inside, since you don’t have to swing the club.) Where is your elbow pointed? Toward the hole!

Brian, if you break the First Principle and rotate your forearms, you’re setting up for a chicken wing from the very start of the swing.

In addition, we tend to equate swing speed with expended effort, but that’s an incorrect assumption. Rotating your forearms puts your arm into a position where pulling the club feels normal and even correct to a lot of people. If you’re pulling the club rather than swinging it, you’re going to have to spin your shoulders to try and get the club back into position, and most people have to spin their hips in order to spin their shoulders. From this state of affairs, it’s hard to swing the club.

Here’s our plan of attack: I’m going to help you stop spinning your hips, which should help you stop spinning your shoulders. Once you accomplish that, it should feel much more natural to swing your arms… and that will, in turn, help eliminate that nasty chicken wing at the end. (Save those chicken wings for the 19th hole, where they belong!)

So next up… we tackle that nasty over-the-top move that plagues so many weekend players.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Limerick Summary: Open

After setting a 36-hole record of 122 (back-to-back 61s―9-under on the par 70 course―in the 2nd and 3rd rounds), Troy Matteson ended up in a playoff with Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark. Both youngsters are trying to make enough money to qualify for the Tour without going to Q-School; but despite some lucky breaks, including a shot by Lovemark that went into the lake at 18 and jumped out, neither was able to beat Matteson's great approach shot on the 2nd playoff hole. The win not only catapulted Matteson out of his 131 position on the money list, but gave him a two-year exemption.

A quick shout-out goes to Matt Every, the latest Big Break contestant to earn a card onto either the PGA or LPGA Tour. Other alumnis currently on tour include Kristy McPherson, Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, Becky Lucidi, Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey, and James Nitties. (Did I forget anybody?)

Anyway, here's today's summary:
Troy Matteson twice shot 9-under
And tore the Tour records asunder.
His win ended troubles
With Fall Finish bubbles
And left two Tour youngsters in wonder.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fanning the Club Open on the Way Back

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the photos as if you were looking in a mirror.)

One problem Brian mentioned in our emails is that he fans the club open on the backswing and flips it shut on the downswing; this, combined with an over-the-top move, sometimes causes him to hit a duck hook. That over-the-top move should disappear when we deal with the rest of his swing, but I told him he can work on that other problem now. You’ll hear me say this over and over until I run it into the ground, but I can’t stress it enough:

The number one principle of good golf, whether you’re putting or driving or making any shot in-between, is that the clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.

This is non-negotiable! If you want to hit the ball a long way and do it accurately, you simply MUST follow this principle. The Deadhanded Approach Shot series listed in the sidebar has a simple drill with a drinking glass that will help you learn how it feels. You don’t even have to go to the golf course―you can do it inside, where it’s warm. (Specifically, the drill is in posts 2 and 3.) You don’t have to spend a lot of time on it, maybe a minute or so a day if you’re ambitious, and it’ll improve your game during the off-season.

For many of you, this one little drill will cure a multitude of ills. But am I finished? Oh no, not yet; let me give you two for the price of one.

When I had my lesson with Carl, I had the same problem (one of many!) that Brian has. Carl gave me a drill that helps you stop rotating your forearms. While you can use this drill during play, bear in mind that you probably won’t be hitting 300-yard drives with it. However, I’m only average height and weight, and I was able to routinely hit a 3-wood 230-240 yards off the tee using it, my driver around 250. (Admit it, some of you would pay for those drives!)

The drill uses an early wrist cock, which steals a little distance in exchange for an easy-to-feel forearm position check. But it’s very easy to describe and even easier to do:

When you take the club back, cock the club almost immediately. When your arms are parallel to the ground (halfway up to the top), you want to be sure the club shaft is pointing straight up in the air.

Yeah, I know this goes against everything you’ve heard about how important swing planes are, yaddy-yaddy-yah. But if you’ve been twisting your forearms on the backswing, your brain associates that twist with quiet forearms. This will teach you what non-twisting forearms really feel like.

And trust me, if you use this technique in a full swing, the movement of your upper body and the club’s weight will result in your club automatically following the correct plane… because you won’t be twisting it off the plane. Carl eliminated my banana ball in one lesson with this simple drill. At worst, I had a slight fade, which is a very nice shot to play on tight courses.

These two drills will help you learn to quiet your forearms on the backswing. Remember: Unwanted forearm action is the number one killer among weekend golfers today. But your donation of only $25 dollars a month can help us eradicate this terrible… well, you get the idea.

Of course, tomorrow is Limerick Monday, but the next post after that will tackle the delight of Buffalo that terrorizes many golfers… the chicken wing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Look at Brian’s Grip

(PAY ATTENTION, RIGHTHANDERS! Normally I describe things as a righthander, and lefties have to transpose it. But Brian is a lefty and this is his project, so you righties will have to substitute “right” for “left” and vice versa. It will give you an appreciation for what lefties have to go through when they learn the game. But here’s a hint that will help: View the photos as if you were looking in a mirror.)

I wanted to start by looking at Brian’s grip just because it’s so darn good! Here’s what Brian told me in an email:
One of the fixes was strengthening my grip which has really almost cured me of the slice. Now though, more often if I miss it's with the driver and it's a pull or straight duck hook.
Take a closer look at this grip:

Brian's grip from two angles

This is what is called a neutral grip. Since Brian says he strengthened it, that actually means he started with a weak grip. In a weak grip, the hands are turned so the thumbs are pointed more toward the target at setup. (In Brian’s case, that means his hands were turned more to the right. For you right-handers, that would be your left.) A weak grip requires a lot of forearm action to square up the club (BAD Brian, BAD!) and he couldn’t do it consistently, hence his persistent slice.

A neutral grip is what Carl taught me when he worked with me. (My grip was actually too strong.) A slightly strong grip works better for many people, but one advantage to a neutral grip is that it’s very easy to tell if it’s correct. The pics Brian sent are taken from directly in front of him. (Look at his stance in the 2nd photo. His target line runs straight across the picture from right to left.) Now, look at the Vs formed by his thumb and forefinger―see how they point straight up at where his chin should be? See how the pattern on the grip is centered in the V? This neutral grip is set up properly.

As I said, a slightly strong grip works better for many people, but a neutral grip allows you to hit the ball with extreme accuracy if you don’t rotate your forearms. His problem with duck hooks indicate that this bad habit has carried over from his original grip. (BAD Brian, BAD!)

We’ll talk about that forearm action in the next post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Bobby Jones Update from the One-Eyed Golfer

Vince over at the One-Eyed Golfer has posted an old piece by O.B. Keeler (the man who is best known for writing about the career of Bobby Jones) that really caught my eye.

Some of you may remember the post I did called "Could Bobby Jones Have 'Cut It' Against Today's Pros?" In that piece I wrote about an experimental club Jones designed in the winter of 1923-34, in hopes of getting more length. The club he designed sounded very much like a forerunner of the modern oversized deepface driver. But that knowledge left me wondering: Did Jones ever use that knowledge in his regular clubs?

Well, Vince found this article that answers that question.

Jones seems to have made two notable changes from the experimental model:
  • The original had virtually no bulge in the face of the club; he finally went with a very pronounced bulge.
  • No mention of the shaft material was made, so I could only assume it was hickory; the woods mentioned in this piece used bamboo for the shafts!
There are more details included, such as the length of the driver (44 inches, slightly longer than standard for that time). But you can read the article to get the full details,

You can find the whole piece here. And thanks again, Vince!

Introducing The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor

Hank Haney, eat your heart out!

Actually, this has kinda become a joke between Brian and me, and Brian is the one who first used the term project to describe this series of posts. So I figured, why not?

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up (shame on you!), Brian, who lives in Ottawa, Canada, first commented on a post I did about Jim McLean’s “V-gap” technique. That post is part of the One-Piece Takeaways, Coils & the “V-Gap” Technique series listed in the sidebar. Brian had been able to use the technique briefly, but soon lost it and couldn’t get it back. (That’s a feeling I’m sure we’ve all shared.) So I tried to help, which is how that whole series came to be.

About a week later, Brian commented on the last post of that series that I had indeed helped him, but he still couldn’t quite get it together. (I feel that way about most everything, not just golf.) We’ve traded a few emails since―and then, in a tragic display of brain damage, he sent me a series of swing photos. Further proving that the brain damage was severe and possibly permanent, he granted me permission to use them in some posts. He even thanked me for turning him into a project! Fortunately, Brian isn’t nearly as bad as Charles Barkley. His swing actually looks pretty good, all the way back to the top of his backswing. He’s getting into trouble on the way down, though.

This is a pretty common situation among weekend golfers. Although it’s possible to screw yourself up on the backswing, most players do pretty well until they get to that change of direction. The pictures Brian sent me were taken from directly in front of him; I don’t have any “down the line” shots. But the problems I can see are pretty common and not that hard to fix.

Some of you may be struggling with the very same problems as Brian. Well, fret no more! With the help of my guinea pi― er, student, I’m going to show you just how simple a good swing can be.

Hopefully, Brian will drop by to post comments about how incredibly smart I am… but you should at least see some feedback concerning how hard or easy he finds these tips to be, as well as what sort of results he gets from them.

And you’ll be able to find all these posts under the new category project brian. (What do you think, Brian? You’re not just a project anymore, you’re a whole freaking category!)

Well, here we go―the Project is afoot!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tom Watson's Secret

David over at World Golf Emporium put up this post about focusing on accuracy first, distance later. This goes against the advice given by many of the big name teachers of the game, but I think he's right on. Contrary to popular belief, it's easier to add distance when you already swing accurately than the other way around.

Anyway, David included this video in his post and, being a Tom Watson fan, I had to post it. It just reinforces some of what I've already said in these posts... but it's Tom Watson saying it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How the Swing Changes as It Gets Longer

I’ve now posted the complete Basic Principles series from putting to driving. I thought you might find it useful to see all the different stages of the swing together, so you can see how the changes progress as the stroke gets longer.

Putting: Uses the Basic Principles of Good Putting. Designed to make the ball roll smoothly along the ground toward the hole. This is the simplest stroke.

Chipping: Uses the Basic Principles of Good Chipping, which basically tweaks Principles 2 and 6. The grip is strengthened slightly and we begin to hit more down on the ball, as we want the ball to get airborne now.

Punching: Uses the Basic Principles of Good Punching; Principle 5 now acknowledges that we may want to make a specialized shot, such as cutting or hooking the ball. In addition, we add the power technique of coiling the upper body.

Pitching: Uses the Basic Principles of Good Pitching; Principle 4 now changes the grip so the club is more in the fingers. This allows the addition of a new power technique, cocking the wrists.

Approaching: These principles are the same as the Basic Principles of Good Pitching, but we now add the control technique of feeling the change of direction. This technique can be used for any shot where you want to hit the ball a specific distance.

Driving (full swing): These principles are the same as the Basic Principles of Good Approaching, but we now add the power technique of delaying the cocking of the wrists, sometimes called cocking on the downswing. And of course, this technique applies to any shot where you’re trying to hit the ball as far as possible.

The basic belief behind Ruthless Golf is that an entire golf game can be built from a putting stroke. Putting is simple and anyone can do it, so good habits are easily developed; then, by lengthening the stroke step-by-step and adding new techniques one at a time, those good habits are carried into the full game. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t have to concentrate on ten things at once―you just make the adjustments that the principles require (which are mostly about your setup) and then focus on developing a single technique. You first learn to swing without rotating your forearms, then add an upper body coil, a wrist cock, the change of direction, and finally the power move. By the time you get to the power move, you’re hitting the ball pretty long but with accuracy, so you don’t go through a long frustrating period where you can’t keep the ball in the fairway while you improve your length off the tee; you keep the ball in the fairway the same way you keep the ball on track to the hole on the putting green. When you work on one, you automatically help the other.

The result is a low-maintenance golf game, one where you don’t need a lot of practice to play well and where any practice you do can benefit all aspects of your game. Minimum effort, maximum results―just the thing for a weekend golfer with a busy life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Basic Principles of Good Driving

Now we’ve reached the final step in my progression of how you carry the good practices you learn in a putting stroke into your full swing. We’ve moved from putting to chipping to punching to pitching to approaching … and finally to driving.

By driving, of course, I’m referring to any full-swing shot where you want to get maximum distance. (And any posts concerning driving will be found under the category of “full swing basics.” Just so you know.) These principles are the same as the Basic Principles of Good Approaching, but Principle 6 has changed slightly to include the use of a tee and we’ve added one more new technique.
  1. The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
  2. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, the club should be held in a slant-parallel grip where both palms are parallel to each other but the grip is turned slightly strong. This allows us to keep the wrists firm through impact without tensing the hands and forearms.
  3. The club should be held no tighter than necessary, without tension in the arms or shoulders or hands.
  4. The club handle should be held more in the fingers, so that the wrists can cock freely. Some people will still keep the forearms close to parallel with the shaft, but this becomes less important. The uncocking action at impact, coupled with the length and speed of the swing, governs the actual position taken at setup.
  5. Unless making a specialized stroke, the club should never follow an outside-to-inside path (a cut stroke).
  6. If the ball is sitting on the ground, the clubhead should travel on a slightly upward path on the backswing and more downward on the downstroke, just as in the approach shot. However, if the ball is on a tee, we move the ball slightly forward in our stance to catch the ball more on the upswing.
  7. The lower body should not be rigid, neither should it be consciously moved. It should move no more than the natural execution of the stroke requires.
The drive adds a final new technique to the swing: Delaying the cocking of the wrists, also called cocking on the downswing, which adds power to the shot. This technique applies to any shot where you’re trying to hit the ball as far as possible.

And again, I have not changed Principle 7, because I think it’s more effective for a weekend golfer (and maybe for the pros as well!) to focus on proper coiling and simply let the lower body respond naturally on the downswing. The Basic Principles of Good Approaching went into more detail concerning this, so I’ll just refer you back to that post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Limerick Summary: Timberlake Shriners Open

Winner: Martin Laird

Forgive me for shortening the tournament name, but The Limerick Summary: The Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is just too long for a post title.

That being said, I think much of golf’s future depends on entertainers like Justin Timberlake. If golf is going to grow, it’s going to have to reach out to a younger generation; it’ll be people like Justin who carry it forward. The fact that so many big-name entertainers readily joined him for his charity concert Saturday night bodes well for this event, I think.

The golf was exciting right to the end, with Chad Campbell, George McNeill, and Martin Laird going to a three-hole playoff. Congrats to Laird, who won his first PGA tournament today!

As for me… well, this was a difficult summary to write. With such a well-known celebrity hosting the event, it only made sense that I should salute his efforts as well. Therefore, this summary incorporates a Justin Timberlake playlist:
I’m Loving It,” Martin said with a grin.
“I’ll Never Again say I didn’t win.
Nothin’ Else slows my stride;
All my work's Justified.
Guess I’ll Take It from Here and go win again.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Matt Kuchar Can “Flat-Out” Play

Ok, bad joke. But Matt Kuchar is in contention again this week, after winning just a couple of weeks ago at Turning Stone, so that super-flat swing he’s adopted is getting a lot of attention. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

I wanted to include a photo of Kuchar’s backswing position, but the only one I could find is here at (made over a year ago) and the plane lines that have been added to the picture are terribly misleading. Matt’s hands are probably no more than six inches below his shoulders, at most. It’s the third picture down; you can take a look at it if you haven’t seen the Kuchar Crunch before. (Yeah, that’s what I’m calling it. Live with it.)

The big question is, of course, should a weekend player even consider a swing as flat as the Crunch? Flat swings are nothing new; players like Rosie Jones and Paul Azinger made good careers for themselves swinging that way, and Chad Campbell is a current player who plays very well by keeping things “below the plane.” But Kuchar is 6’4” and needed about four years to make this swing work well enough to win with it. Because of these facts, his swing has drawn considerable criticism. Tall players generally adopt more upright swings, in order to take advantage of the huge arc they can create on the backswing.

Flat-swingers keep their right elbows very close to their side on the backswing, thus causing their hands to be below the traditionally-accepted position of a proper swing plane. (That elbow position is why I call it the Crunch; that’s how it feels to me.) It’s often said that upright players are longer and flat players are more accurate; I think you can understand how this idea got started. While it’s harder to develop a lot of power with your elbow so close to your side, it makes sense that it’s simpler to keep the club on-line when the elbow doesn’t have a lot of leeway to move on the downswing.

Where flat swings can cause problems is their low angle of approach to the ball. Any sort of rough can prevent clean contact between clubface and ball. As tall as Matt Kuchar is, his flat swing is probably on about the same plane as a typical 5’10” player with a so-called “proper” swing; as a result, Matt probably doesn’t have that problem. And with his long arms, he can still get an acceptable amount of swing speed to play against the other pros.

Don’t discount height when we talk about the Crunch. The other flat-swingers I mentioned, Campbell and Azinger, are 6’1” and 6’2” respectively. Rosie Jones, at 5’7”, was always considered a short hitter. But when these players are playing well, they’re extremely hard to beat. I wouldn’t rule out the Crunch just because you might give up some distance; all of these players are known for their accuracy, and their low ball flights make them deadly in windy conditions.

The big question concerns that four-year stretch Kuchar needed to make the swing change. Obviously I would never recommend such an effort-intensive change to a weekend player. But the key word here is CHANGE. If you have a “standard” swing and it feels good to you, don’t change it; just learn how to use it properly.

But is the Crunch your natural swing, the one you automatically use when you take the club back? Then don’t change it just because somebody tells you it’s “wrong.” All swings have advantages and disadvantages. You’ll be best served by a natural-feeling swing that you can repeat time after time. You’ll just need to develop a game strategy that minimizes its shortcomings and maximizes its strengths.

There’s no reason you can’t take a page out of Matt Kuchar’s book and use the Crunch to “flat-out” beat your opponents.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Comments Are Always Open

In case you didn't know, you can comment at any time on any post here at Ruthless Golf.

Some blogs shut down comments after a couple of weeks. I can understand that, as many blogs deal with "popular" topics - that is, things that are hot for a few days or weeks, then fade away. But with Ruthless Golf, the material is mostly instructional and therefore not likely to be dated anytime soon. A post that may not be particularly useful to you right now may suddenly become very important a few months down the road... and you may find you have questions.

In case I don't catch it myself, I've got the blog set up to notify me by email when a new comment has been posted. So if you have a comment or a question, go ahead and add it on. I usually catch it within a day, unless I've had problems.

Thursday (10/15/09) is a classic example. I woke up to find my computer wouldn't boot. It took me most of the day to get it fixed; apparently Microsoft sent 16 different patches out, and something screwed up the boot sectors of my hard drive. After several attempts to repair the problem and a quick trip to see the Geek Squad, I was able to get the system fixed. When it finally came up I found that the post I had set up Wednesday night for Thursday had the wrong date and didn't show up as planned. I fixed that, then found Brian's comment on the last post about coiling from a week ago.

So don't hesitate to leave a comment or question, even if the post is several months old. I'll find it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Throw a Club When You Can Break It?

With the weekend coming up, many of you are just aching to throw some clubs. In fact, that spoof golf tip video "The Proper Way to Throw a Golf Club" is still going strong amongst the golf blogs, including those in my blog list.

Well, that video was done by Charlie King, the Director of Instruction at Reynolds Plantation outside Atlanta. And now Charlie has gone one better. Why throw clubs when it's so much more satisfying to BREAK them? I will simply bow out today and let him give you proper instruction concerning "Anger Management - What Happens When the Urge to Break a Club Overtakes You."

So enjoy your golf this weekend... just don't get near my bag!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Caveman Golf

I believe sports psychologist Gio Valiante is responsible for that term. He says it means, "See ball. Hit ball."

I really like that. Golf should be that simple.

Don't give me that look. It should be that simple, shouldn't it? You do plenty of other things that way. Just think about it...

You play catch with your kid. (Or maybe throw Frisbees; I've been doing that a lot with the neighborhood kids lately.) Do you agonize over your hand or foot position? Do you try to consciously control how far back you take the ball? When I throw a Frisbee, I just think about how hard I want to throw it... and my followthrough. (If I finish with my hand pointed toward my target, I'll probably get it pretty close.)

How about when you swat a fly or drive a nail? I used both of those for examples in the loop sequence (specifically, in this post). When I use either move, I'm generally thinking about my target, be it nail or fly.

Tried shooting basketball with paper wads lately? I bet you focused on the waste basket during your Air Jordan imitation.

Most of us instinctively focus on targets. Sometimes I think that's why we have so much trouble with golf - we get too hung up on positions. We think about the club or the ball or our shoulder or our alignment, but never about the hole. I try to write about techniques that will allow you to do a lot of things without thinking about them, not because you want to create some mindless stroke but because you want to focus on your target.

As much as possible, try to think more about where the ball should go than how it's going to get there. Caveman golf is the natural way to play.

After all, you're using a club, aren't you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our First Look at Big Break: Disney

Did you watch the premiere of Golf Channel's Big Break: Disney last night? The new show has a variety of "stars" on it: Susan Lucci's son, Rudy Guiliani's son, the Finau brothers, etc.

The first player to be eliminated was Edwin Moses, the former Olympic swimmer.

This caught my attention because of golf's addition to the Olympics, as well as the arguments about whether golf is a sport. Moses seemed pretty sure that his athleticism would allow him to overcome his opponents... and now he's the first one eliminated.

Ironic, if you ask me. But it begs the question once again: Is golf truly a sport, if an athlete like Edwin Moses can be beat so early in the series?

Is ping pong a sport? It is, after all, in the Olympics. If you define a sport purely in terms of brute strength, speed, or endurance, then the answer is no. But it requires good eye-hand coordination, rapid reflexes, and the ability to instantly change the amount of force applied to a moving object while your opponent changes his/her position and your choice of target at the same time; if you think these are athletic actions, then the answer is yes.

Golf presents physical challenges that can range from brute strength (in the rough) to delicate control (on the greens). The real beauty is that it doesn't require these qualities in an extreme form - that is, you don't have to be THE strongest or the fastest - but you need to COMBINE all of these qualities in a measure that most people are capable of attaining. Lopsided skills don't cut it in our sport; balance is what's important.

I think the new show is going to be interesting... because it looks like the Magic Kingdom is about to get a reality check.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let the Second Guessing Begin…

The Presidents Cup is over, the American team won, and Greg Norman will now be subjected to the customary aftermath of second guessing.

Should he have picked Adam Scott? It’s worth noting that his other pick, Ryo Ishikawa, was also criticized; the uproar over Scott was just louder. And had Scott played better, Norman would be heralded as a genius.

But what of Adam Scott? The former #3 in the world has come under even worse fire. Before the matches, some said he should have withdrawn himself from consideration; now, some are already writing off his career. (Here’s one written example, and I heard some equally depressing commentary on TV.)

Have we forgotten so soon? Scott ranks, what, #69 this week? From 3 to 69 certainly is a big drop. But if Scott is done for, what happens to the poor guy who drops from, say, #4 to #337? Guess we’ll never hear from him again, eh?

In 2005, that man was Steve Stricker. In 1996 he was #4 on the money list, then dropped to #130 in ‘97, bounced back up to #13 in ’98, and plummeted again before rising back to the top 30 in 2001. Then he dropped yet again, all the way down to #188 in 2003, and in 2005 he was #162 on the money list… and #337 in the world rankings. Now he’s… hmmm, let me think… NUMBER 3 in the world and Tiger Woods’s preferred teams partner.

Golf is a funny game that way. In fact, this is what people mean when they say golf is like life… it’s hard to count anybody out. Stricker came back; Wie came back; Watson fell one putt short of winning the Open, but proved he has definitely NOT left the building. It’s the nature of the game.

Forgive me if I just laugh at all the naysayers condemning Adam Scott to a new career selling insurance. Schwarzenegger said it best: He’ll be back.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Presidents Cup

Winner: The USA

Well, it may have been a bit anticlimactic after the ROW team fell behind by 3 points Saturday, but the golf was pretty good nevertheless!

For the ROW guys, Ryo Ishikawa lived up to the hype and made Norman look like a genius. (Adam Scott may not have been a worldbeater, but he did show signs of improvement.) Likewise, Tim Clark made a good case for being the best player NOT to have won a major; Zach Johnson threw out 5 birdies in 15 holes, only to be crushed by Clark’s 8! He played much better than his record this week indicated.

As for the USA, what can you say? Almost everybody came through at one time or another, with Sean O’Hair proving that he’s got some serious game. And then there was the 1-2-3 punch of the Big Three―and I think we can now call them that without being accused of overstatement. Woods, Mickelson, and Stricker combined for a 13-1-1 record and accounted for 9.5 of the 19.5 point total. That’s a monster performance in anybody’s book. Phil’s resurgence is amazing, as he gained his points with 3 different partners and received Sean’s thanks for more help with his putting. (With both Tiger and Phil giving him tips, is it any wonder he’s playing so well?)

Anyway, that’s the backdrop for this week’s limerick. As for that last line… well, they played at Harding Park in San Francisco. I’m on the East Coast, so that’s a three-hour difference; I figure they were finished in time for afternoon tea.
As Tiger and Yang got a rematch
And Phil offered others a mismatch
The U. S. of A. guys
Walked off with the big prize
And finished in time for a coffee klatsch.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Basic Principles of Good Approaching

We’re almost there! This is the next step up in my progression of how you carry the good practices you learn in a putting stroke into your full swing. We’ve moved from putting to chipping to punching to pitching… and now to approaching.

Approaching refers to any full swing shot that focuses on accuracy. The principles no longer change; these are the same as the Basic Principles of Good Pitching. However, the stroke has lengthened and we’ve added a new technique.
  1. The clubface should remain square to the stroke path; the forearms should NOT rotate during the execution of the stroke.
  2. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, the club should be held in a slant-parallel grip where both palms are parallel to each other but the grip is turned slightly strong. This allows us to keep the wrists firm through impact without tensing the hands and forearms.
  3. The club should be held no tighter than necessary, without tension in the arms or shoulders or hands.
  4. The club handle should be held more in the fingers, so that the wrists can cock freely. Some people will still keep the forearms close to parallel with the shaft, but this becomes less important. The uncocking action at impact, coupled with the length and speed of the swing, governs the actual position taken at setup.
  5. Unless making a specialized stroke, the club should never follow an outside-to-inside path (a cut stroke).
  6. The clubhead should travel on a slightly upward path on the backswing and more downward on the downstroke, in order to trap as little grass as possible between the ball and the clubface.
  7. The lower body should not be rigid, neither should it be consciously moved. It should move no more than the natural execution of the stroke requires.
The approach adds a new technique to the swing: Feeling the change of direction, which gives us extra control when approaching the green. This technique applies to any shot where you cock your wrists and are trying to hit the ball a specific distance.

It may surprise you that Principle 7 hasn’t changed. As I said in yesterday's post, many of you are consciously trying to move your lower body to get more power in your shots. You hear the pros (and their teachers) talking about driving the lower body to start the swing, and that’s fine if you're having trouble with a hook and you have enough time to do the practice necessary to sync that extra drive up with your upper body; otherwise, consciously driving your lower body may just get your body out of position and make you push and/or slice the ball.

On the other hand, if you coil properly, your legs will naturally begin the downswing; it’s simple physics. If you focus on proper upper body movement and just let your lower body respond naturally (as Jack says Tom does), you’ll probably find that you get more distance and accuracy with less work.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Tip from Peter Kostis

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the people I’m following on Twitter is teacher Peter Kostis, and I shared one of the tips he tweeted. Well, I went back later to see what other tips he may have sent out and found this little jewel, which seemed appropriate as a finish for this series of posts about making a good backswing:
peterkostis Twitter tip #5. Proper hand and arm action eliminates the right shots while proper foot and legwork eliminates the left shots. 1:02 PM Sep 16th from web
Why do I call this a little jewel? Because for me it sums up the whole rationale behind this blog―namely, that the tips you hear the big-name teachers giving on TV are usually tailored to the pros, not the weekend golfer.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a well-known teacher appear on a TV show and tell how the average golfer should focus on making sure their legs and hips drive the downswing. Then they give a drill that they say will help you straighten out your slice by getting the legs to do more work.

Unfortunately, classic swing teachers like Jim Flick or Manuel de la Torre don’t get as much TV time these days because they stress using the hands and arms. In many cases, they’re the teachers a weekend golfer needs most.

Take another look at the tip Peter Kostis tweeted. How does he say you get rid of your slice (right shots)? By using proper hand and arm action. Problems with hooks (left shots) are dealt with by learning proper foot and legwork.

Think about this for a moment and you’ll see the logic here. What generally causes a slice? You leave the face of the club open. Why do you leave it open? Nine times out of ten, you either:
  • slide your hips forward too much, causing you to lean backward and push the ball with an open clubface (banana ball time!);
  • turn your body so fast that your hands don’t have time to square the clubface before it reaches the ball; or
  • turn your body so fast that you fling your hands and arms over the top and make an outside-in swing.
All of these are the result of overusing your legs. Certainly, the legs have to work properly when you swing, but they generally don’t need to be worked as hard as we try to work them. Most weekend golfers need to learn how to use their hands and arms better, and just let their hips and legs move naturally in support of that move.

Some of you with big slices do need to learn how to use your legs. I know, because I had to learn the proper way to use mine during a swing; it was a major part of my problem. But it wasn’t a matter of using my legs too much; rather, I wasn’t using them at all! I was standing too straight (not enough knee flex) and I tended to spin my body and hips rather than turn them. No matter what you may think, spinning your body is not the same thing as using your legs!

That all changed when Carl taught me how to coil on the backswing; in fact, Carl never once told me that I needed to drive my legs! He got me to set up with more knee flex, then taught me to coil and suggested I try moving my legs as little as possible. That sounds a little silly until you realize that with a proper coil, it’s almost impossible not to use your legs properly.

That’s why I’ve spent so many posts trying to help you learn how to coil. For most weekend players, the key to proper leg action is a proper coil.

And those same weekend players can straighten out their slices by using their arms and hands better, and then just letting their legs move naturally as a result of their coil. Again, that’s one of the major concepts behind this blog: A low-maintenance swing allows a lot of things to happen naturally.

Whether you find yourself fighting a persistent slice or a hook, remember this Peter Kostis tip. It will help you identify the source of the problem more quickly. That way, you won’t waste your time trying to fix something that ain’t broke!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Putting the Coil & Takeaway Together

OK, you’ve patiently waded through several days of seemingly unrelated posts. Today’s the payoff; today we tie it all together into a useful swing.

You’re ready to pound that ball down the fairway, so you set up normally. Your grip is slightly strong (I described the reasons for that in this post) and you begin your takeaway. You don’t rotate your forearms as you start back (this is the First Principle for all aspects of the swing) for the same reason you don't rotate them during a putt―so the clubface isn’t twisted open or closed. If it was, you’d have to make some adjustment on the way down, and we’re trying to avoid that. So far, so good.

But this isn’t a putt, is it? A putt is a fairly short stroke. You can only swing back so far without twisting your forearms… unless you coil your upper body. As you coil, your rotating shoulders allow you to keep the triangle formed by your hands and shoulders intact until you reach the first position shown in the Tom Watson picture in this post. Your shoulders will have coiled between 30 and 45 degrees at this point, and yet both of your arms remain relatively straight, in the same position as they were in your setup. Since your arms are in the same position and you aren’t trying to cock your wrists, your wrists also remain in the same position as they were at setup. This is the one-piece takeaway we’ve been talking about.

I can’t stress this point enough: We aren’t trying to cock the wrists or manipulate the club in any way. If we make this move properly, the wrists will remain relaxed and cock all by themselves. The less we have to consciously control during the swing, the more we let things happen of their own accord, the more consistent our swing will be.

Now, if we aren’t manipulating the wrists or arms, all that’s left is the movement of the arms at the shoulder joints. If we don’t lift or tilt the shoulders (that was yesterday’s post), the natural direction for the arms to move is to the top of the backswing. When they do, because of the shoulder angle you set up with (remember, one hand is lower on the handle than the other), the only natural way for the arms to reach the top of the backswing is for the right elbow to bend.

When the right elbow bends, the wrists cock of their own accord. The right hand is lower on the handle; bending the right elbow effectively shortens the right arm, so the right hand has to move closer to the player than the left hand. Unless you bend the left elbow as much as you bend the right, the wrists have to cock; it’s simple mechanics.

When your upper body is fully coiled, it stops turning away from the ball. You’ll feel the pressure of the clubhead against the back of your wrists as the club tries to keep moving (again, simple physics). When you feel this weight, you start to uncoil. The residual momentum of the clubhead resists the change, so the wrists “hold the angle” coming down. (Again, that was explained in this post.)

And the difference in the angle between the uncocked wrists of the backswing and the fully-cocked wrists of the downswing forms the angle that Jim McLean calls the “V-Gap.”

Take some time going over these posts until you understand what’s happening here. If you incorporate these concepts into your existing swing, you’ll eliminate a tremendous amount of tension from your body, and relaxed muscles are the key to building clubhead speed. Your grip may tighten slightly at the change of direction, when you feel the pressure from the clubhead against the back of your wrists. This is where strength training provides the most benefit; the stronger you are, the less you'll have to tighten your grip. (Bobby Jones was notorious for relaxing his grip here, but he acknowledged that he was unusual in this respect.)

These concepts are the key to turning your club into the equivalent of a bullwhip, which “cracks” because it breaks the sound barrier. That shoulder turn is called a coil for a reason! Combined with a properly-done one-piece takeaway, you should pick up some serious distance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meet Gary Coilman

This post will look a little silly at first. Stick with me, though; I promise you won’t be sorry.

Yesterday I said that lifting and tilting the shoulders was a major problem for weekend golfers. Today I want to show you how proper coiling helps cure that problem.

Meet Gary!So who’s Gary Coilman, you may ask? He’s the little guy pictured to the left. Should you need to actually see today’s lesson in action, you can recreate him with a couple of popsicle sticks and a piece of cardboard. (Or just a piece of cardboard, if you like, but he won’t hit the ball as far.) The cardboard piece is to help you keep track of where his chest is; you can also make him from just a couple of sticks if you mark the front (chest) side clearly.

And of course, you lefties can make one by just marking the other side of the sticks.

In case it’s not obvious to you, the long upright represents Gary’s spine and the shorter crosspiece is his excuse for shoulders. The crosspiece is at an angle because one shoulder is set higher at address; in the picture above, Gary’s right shoulder is lower than his left because his right hand is lower on the handle than his left. (Yes, I know you all know this from your own setup, but I want to make sure you understand how I’ve applied it to Gary. You’ll thank me later.)

Now, imagine that Gary is an actual golfer. When he sets up, he’s going to lean forward just like you, with his chest facing the ball. If you were a cameraman filming his play for a PGA Tour broadcast, you’d be standing “behind” him―that is, looking down the line toward Gary’s target―and that’s where you are in the next picture. The first image shows him at the top of his backswing, and the second shows his followthrough. (Apparently, Gary totally whiffed this one; but we’ll cut him some slack, as he was kind enough to pose for the picture.)

How Gary's Swing Looks

Here’s what I want you to see. If you compare these views of Gary’s positions at the extremes of the swing to similar views of any good professional, you’ll see that they match. (Granted, most pros will straighten up at the followthrough; you'll need to compare this position to a pro like Laura Diaz, who keeps her spine angle all the way through.) Why is this important? Because Gary can’t move his shoulders at all! He can’t lift or tilt his shoulders; he can only rotate them around his spine.

This is the ideal for a proper coil. If you could do it perfectly, you would never change your shoulder position from setup through the backswing to the followthrough.

In reality, this probably won’t happen. Although most of you can probably duplicate Gary’s move, it may feel very stiff to you, and you’ll just tense up even more than you do now. But you might also be surprised to find that you’re moving a lot more than necessary when you swing. Either way, you should give it a try. (Be aware that moving your hips too much can cause excess shoulder motion also… but trying Gary’s move can help you identify that problem if it exists.)

This is something you can do in front of a mirror, without a club, just to get used to how a quieter shoulder motion feels. You don't have to mimic an entire swing; you just want to feel how your spine and shoulders move during the backswing, so you can do it very slowly. Don’t tense up while doing it; stay as relaxed as you can. Again, what you want to learn is how it feels to keep your shoulders more quiet during your swing. If you relax, you’ll find it easier to move less. In the end, this little exercise will help you relax more during your swing, which will allow you to develop more clubhead speed.

Take a lesson from Gary; you’ll be glad you did. Just eliminating some excess shoulder lifting and tilting during your backswing can make a huge difference in your ability to hit the ball solidly… and that translates to both more distance and more accuracy. (Gary’s whiff notwithstanding…)

Tomorrow I’ll show you how a coil works with a one-piece takeaway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

OOPS! To Find Me on Facebook...

Where's my head today? How can you leave comments on my Facebook wall if you don't know where it is?!?

Just go here to find me. You can also search for "ruthlessgolf," which is the same as my Twitter name.

My Facebook page is also linked to my Twitter account... so maybe I'll do more twittering now.

What the...? Facebook TOO?

Yeah, first I got on Twitter and now I'm on Facebook. Time marches on...

Not that I really have that much to say (yet) that I can't put it all on this blog. But I'm thinking ahead... or at least trying to. Everybody keeps telling me I better learn this stuff now before I get inundated by all the new stuff. I mean, really... Can I Digg it? Must I Squidoo it? Will I have to open a golf-ball-shaped club in Second Life, where all the cool golf avatars can hang out?

Stay tuned to find out...

In the meantime, I know most of you out there know a lot more about Facebook and Twitter than I do, so I'm open to suggestions. Just what do YOU use it for, especially in relation to your blogs and such? Feel free to add a comment to this post or go post it on my wall at Facebook. (It's probably better if you don't tweet it; I may never find your suggestion amidst all those chirps and twitters...)

Not Quite Hamlet’s Mortal Coil

When Hamlet, in his famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy, lamented the fear of what lies beyond “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” he wasn’t talking about golf. According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare’s 16th Century audience would have understood the word “coil” to mean trouble and “shuffling off this mortal coil” to mean dying.

Given the amount of trouble golfers have with coiling, though, maybe things haven’t changed much.

Coiling isn’t a difficult concept, nor is a proper coil difficult to learn. Getting a good coil on your backswing can not only increase your distance, but it can actually eliminate strain on your body and make it easier to swing the club. The one-piece takeaway I’ve been writing about the last few days is extremely easy to do when you coil properly.

At its simplest, a coil is simply a turn of the shoulders. When teachers tell you to try and get your left shoulder under your chin on the backswing, they’re trying to get you to coil. But getting that left shoulder around is the result of a good coil, not a cause. The error made by most players is lifting and tilting the shoulders; in fact, if a player focuses on that word “under,” they can end up making the very mistake they were trying to avoid.

A proper coil is felt mostly in the waist. In today’s post I just want you to learn what a real coil looks and feels like. Don’t worry, you don’t need room to swing a club for this; you don’t need a club at all.

All you need is a wall, even one in a narrow area like a hallway. This doesn’t take much room, and it will teach you what a coil feels like.

Here’s how you do it:

Setup for coil practice

Set up next to a wall as shown in the diagram, feet about shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly, and I do mean slightly―I just want you to bend your legs a little, not do deep knee bends. The flex in your knees will allow your hips to move a little as you coil. Your upper body should still be straight, as it normally is when you stand.

Now, read this entire paragraph before trying this! While still facing in the direction your toes are pointed, I want you turn your upper body at the waist and place both hands on the wall at shoulder level or slightly higher, and about shoulder-width apart. Turn at the waist. Don’t turn your hips any more than necessary, but be aware that they’ll turn a little. And try to keep your feet flat on the floor if you can, but don’t strain to do it. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THIS HURT. If it does, stop; you need to work some more on your flexibility before you can do this.

Assuming you felt no pain and were able to get in this position, you should be able to hold it for a while, since your hands are taking some pressure off your back. Note that your left shoulder probably didn’t get completely under your chin; it shouldn’t because we aren’t finished yet.
  • By the way, this is a good gentle stretching exercise that can improve your flexibility. Just take this position and hold it for maybe 30 seconds, then change position and do it on your other side. If you have trouble doing this with your feet parallel to the wall, just point your toes a little more toward the wall to make the coil easier. You can gradually work your way back to this position.
Now make one simple change: Move your left hand over beside your right hand. Your left shoulder should move beneath your chin now. This is a much bigger stretch, and almost the same as when you coil during your swing… except you’re still standing straight up.

Well, it’s time to remedy that. Return to your starting position, hands at your sides, and bend over as if setting up to hit a shot. Your knees are slightly bent again, right? Now turn your upper body at the waist again and place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart, just like before… except that this time the left hand is lower on the wall than the right hand. (That's because you're bent over. Du-u-u-h! This angle should match your shoulder plane.) You may or may not be able to keep both feet flat on the floor, but your hips will twist a bit more. Your left knee will bend more and move toward your toes, while your right knee will straighten a little. (The right knee should NOT straighten out completely. If it does, you’ll have trouble starting your downswing. This is a big problem for a lot of players, so be aware of it.)

It’s a bit harder, isn’t it? But it shouldn’t be overly difficult. Again, you can use this as a stretching exercise to improve your ability to coil… even when you can’t get out and play! (Note to self: Things to do during the off-season… check.)

Finally, from this position, move your left hand over beside your right hand. Your left shoulder should move under your chin, and you probably feel really stretched out.

This is the basic feel you're after. You can take this position with a real club to see how close you are to making a good coil. If this feels very different from your normal swing, you probably haven't been coiling properly.

Tomorrow I’ll show you a bit more about how the shoulders work during a coil.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Incompleat Backswinger

My post about one-piece takeaways (OPTs for short) on Sunday mentioned Jim McLean’s “V-gap” technique, which is really just a new way of teaching OPTs. That post drew a comment from BMAC, who said he’d used it and it worked, but he’d lost it again and didn’t know how to get it back. I’m going to try and help him today.

Without seeing his swing I’m forced to guess at the problem, but since he was hitting the ball 300 yards using OPT, I suspect my guess is accurate. BMAC is probably a victim of the incompleat backswing. (And for the curious among you who wonder where that weird spelling of “incompleat” originated, I think it’s from Sir Francis Cowley Burnand’s 1887 book entitled The Incompleat Angler.)

A proper backswing is described in many ways, most of which you’ve probably heard at one time or another―completing your backswing, dropping the club into the slot, feeling the change of direction, setting the club, gathering yourself at the top. They’re all ways of identifying the somewhat difficult-to-pinpoint position where:
  • your upper body has coiled fully,
  • the clubhead has spent almost all its momentum traveling away from the ball, and
  • you can start the club back down in a way that uses the remaining momentum to keep the wrists cocked.
What I suspect BMAC has begun doing is starting his downswing before he reaches this position. It’s the most common problem for players, weekend or pro, because we’re all taught to accelerate the club as we hit the ball. But here’s a fact you may not have realized: If you simply lift the club up and then just drop it, it will accelerate! Gravity is a constant acceleration, which means it causes objects to speed up at a constant rate―specifically, 32 feet each second (fps). If at 0 seconds it is dropped from a dead still position, at the 1 second mark it will be traveling at 32 fps; at 2 seconds, 64 fps; at 3 seconds, 96 fps; and so on.

What does this mean for you? Because this acceleration is constant and such a familiar feel to us, we tend to think of the club as moving at a constant speed, even though we are actually accelerating it as we swing. As a result, when we are told to accelerate the club, we think it should move faster and so our natural reaction is to jerk the club around. And what happens when you jerk the club? You tighten up and ruin your rhythm. Typically, your swing shortens and you start down before the club gets into position.

The “late cock” of the wrists that OPT and the “V-gap” use actually make it easier to feel that moment when the club is in position. Here’s how it works:

Diagram of a late wrist cock

The wrists have to move a much greater distance in order to cock when you use an OPT technique. This distance is labeled ‘a’ in the diagram. As a result, the club exerts more force on the wrists at the end of the backswing, in the area labeled ‘b’ in the diagram. making it easier to tell when the club is “in the slot.” When you feel this pressure, you start your downswing.

Now, the “V-gap” article tells you some other things to do―things like pivot to the right, shift to the left, hold the hinge. Don’t get tied in knots over these things!

The pivot to the right is to increase your shoulder turn, or coil. I said last week that I intended to do some articles this week on how to coil, and I will. But you should know this: Even if you’re not getting a huge coil now, the “V-gap” will increase your distance.

The shift to the left happens naturally. If you step up to a doorway, put your hand against the jamb, and try to push it, you will automatically “push off” with your legs; it’s almost impossible not to! If you want to make sure this happens automatically, just make sure you still have a slight bend in your right knee at the top of your backswing. (Or your left knee, if you’re a lefty.)

As for holding the hinge… if you start down when you feel that pressure in the back of your wrists, the hinge will “hold” naturally; it’s called the laws of physics. That pressure means the clubhead is still traveling away from the ball; when you start down, you’re using that momentum to keep the wrists cocked.

This technique works really well with the deadhanded approach shot I covered a few weeks ago. (You can find those posts under the "approach basics" category in the sidebar.) You should become quite a bit longer while still having decent control over your distance.

Tom Watson, who I keep holding up as a great model for weekend golfers, uses these techniques and at 60 he's still able to compete with the young guys. Trust me, this stuff works! Here are two of the frames from that Watson swing sequence I mentioned a few posts ago, showing Watson's OPT and his wristcock as the club swings down.

Tom Watson sequence

You can find the entire swing sequence at the Golf Digest site here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Limerick Summary: Turning Stone Championship

It was an incredibly messy week for the PGA Tour, as players played LCP (lift, clean, and place) for all four rounds of the tournament, but scores remained close because everybody there was fighting for something and was unwilling to give in. Kudos go to the Turning Stone greenspeople for just keeping the course playable after all the rain. This is the second year bad weather has plagued the tournament, but at least they didn’t get hail this time! The rain caused it to get dark earlier, interrupting the playoff. Matt Kuchar finally secured his victory this morning, beating Vaughn Taylor on the sixth playoff hole.

That means Limerick Monday has suffered its first weather delay of the season. I hope it didn’t disrupt your day too much.
Oneida Tribe members were gratified
That the players’ desire remained bonafide.
Kuchar put it away
With his overtime play―
But his Masters spot isn’t solidified.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Key to the One-Piece Takeaway

So, if the one-piece takeaway hasn't outlived its usefulness, why has it caused so much controversy... and so many bad swings?

The problem is two-fold. First, some players have assumed that getting a wide backswing means s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g as much as they can in an effort to push the club handle away from their body. They lock their elbows straight out and they extend their wrists in an effort to make the club shaft point straight out, hoping to get the clubhead as far away from them as they can. They look stiff, and they ARE stiff; there's no way to make a good swing from that position.

The arms should be relaxed, but simply relaxing won't eliminate the main culprit: In order to make a useful one-piece takeaway, you simply MUST turn your shoulders. This turn is often called an upper body coil; you've seen that term mentioned in this blog before (here, for example).

This coil is the key to a proper one-piece takeaway. If you don't coil properly, you'll merely lift your shoulders as you attempt the takeaway, causing you to close the clubface on the way back (which you'll almost certainly open on the way down, causing a slice) and to lean your spine toward the target (which could cause an over-the-top swing, again causing a slice).

In the coming week I'll do some posts about how to make a proper coil, but for now I'll leave you with a diagram showing about how long a one-piece takeaway is. And please note one misleading thing about this diagram, which is also true of any picture showing a player making a one-piece takeaway: No matter how much it looks like it's moving up, that right shoulder is actually moving back as the upper body coils.

One-piece takeaway diagram

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ever Heard of a One-Piece Takeaway?

One of the many controversial "fundamentals" that has been taught over the years is the one-piece takeaway.

In case you haven't heard of it, some teachers have taught that you want to get maximum extension of the club on the backswing. (You may have heard someone mention getting a "wide arc" in your swing. That's the same thing.) In practice, this usually means you try to keep both elbows reasonably straight on the backswing until your arms are almost parallel to the ground. As a result, the wrists don't cock until the hands and arms are nearing the top of the backswing. (You may also have heard people talk about a "late cock" of the wrists, and this is what they're talking about. And not surprisingly, people who begin the wrist cock almost as soon as they begin their backswing are said to have an "early cock.")

I believe the one-piece takeaway originally developed as players searched for a way to use Principle 1 (The forearms don't rotate during the swing) all the way through their swings, in an effort to keep the swing simple and improve their accuracy. It was intended as a means to an end, but it became an end in itself; over time, players' swings became stiffer instead of more relaxed, and the one-piece takeaway caused many to develop bad habits. As a result, many teachers ceased to teach it.

So why do I mention it?

Well, for one thing, its original purpose was valid. The less the forearms rotate during a full swing, the easier it is to return the clubface squarely to the ball.

But the main reason is that the one-piece takeaway is making a comeback... it's just not being called that now. The term "wide backswing" is being used, not just by teachers but by players as well.

In the October Golf Digest, you'll find a good example of this. Jim McLean is teaching a new technique he calls a V-Gap, and it's essentially an updated version of the one-piece takeaway minus the extreme reaching that players often did in the past.

It's just another example of how everything old is new again. I'm glad to see the one-piece takeaway making a comeback because Principle 1 is still part of a low-maintenance swing. Just be aware that the names have been changed to protect the innocent... from bad habits.

Friday, October 2, 2009

What You Can Learn from a One-Shot Pro

I think it was Johnny Miller who called Kenny Perry a “one-shot pro” on Sunday. From Johnny’s perspective, that’s probably a bad thing.

But that one shot―the draw he hits with every club―was good enough to land him 9th place in the FedEx Cup (worth $500,000), even after that terrible last round at the Tour Championship, a 74 that dropped him to T4 (worth $330,000) in the tournament.

Wouldn’t you love to have a “one shot” game like that, that allowed you to pocket $830,000 and still call that a bad day?

Many weekend players go nuts trying to learn how to “work” the ball, or just change their natural shot to its opposite shape. (Which usually means they hit a fade/slice and want to hit a draw.) If you want to use your precious practice time to work on a change, learn how to alter the trajectory of your ball. Regardless of whether you draw or fade, the fact is that low balls travel farther and high balls stop more quickly. If you’ve heard that draws fly farther and fades stop sooner, you should know it’s because most people hit low draws and high fades.

As a general rule, very high draws are harder to hit, as are extremely low fades… but a “power fade” off a tee isn’t too difficult to learn, nor is a draw that’s higher than normal. So, if you’re a natural fader of the ball (like most weekend players), you may actually be in luck; a fader can learn to get distance with less practice than a drawer needs in order to learn to stop the ball. But if you’re a natural drawer… well, you saw Kenny stop his shots pretty well, despite hard greens, so it’s not that hard.

My point is that if Kenny Perry can compete with the best when he has “only one shot,” then maybe you should consider just learning how to control the shot you hit naturally. It’s a rare situation where you can’t figure how to play a hole well with only one shot shape.

Maybe this advice isn’t worth $830,000… but it might help you pocket an extra Nassau or two. Isn’t that worth something to you? (And bragging rights, as the Mastercard® commercials might say, are priceless!)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gary Koch Agrees with Me…

A few days ago I disagreed with a Golf Digest article that suggested the best pros drop their right shoulder… and that weekend players should attempt to do the same.

Today, while watching the Champions Tour play their last major of the season, I saw Gary Koch do a swing analysis of Tom Watson. (I’ve held him out as a good example often enough, haven’t I?) Interestingly, Koch pointed out that part of what makes Watson so good is that his shoulders rotate “more like a merry-go-round than a Ferris wheel.” He said that, for a better player, this move helps hit the ball straighter and avoid a hook.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “Mike, that’s what Golf Digest said. Dropping the shoulder encourages a hook, but keeping it high encourages a slice.”

But if you look back over my posts concerning Tom Watson, you’ll see that my whole point has been that Watson DOESN’T swing like other pros. In my post about Jack’s view of Tom’s swing, I wrote that “Tom lets his body react to the swinging of the club to generate power, rather than swinging to positions.” Tom doesn’t muscle the club around, he swings it. That"s what I’m trying to encourage weekend golfers to do because it’s easier to keep that kind of swing working well.

And Tom doesn’t drop his shoulder on the downswing. Now you can take Gary Koch’s word on it, as well as mine.

Chew on This for a While

As I’ve tried to get my Twitter page up and running, I’ve been trying to find golf-related folks to follow… including some teachers and players. Peter Kostis is one of the teachers, and I had just set up to follow him when this little tweet came through:
peterkostis Twitter Tip #7. A tight muscle is a slow muscle. Relax your jaws and your grip pressure if you want more speed.
I’ve mentioned the importance of relaxing your grip pressure before. (It’s Principle 3, after all.) But what caught my attention was his specific mention of the jaw muscles. If you think about it, it makes perfectly good sense.

Don’t you clench your jaws when you’re under stress? You probably do without even thinking about it. Simply stretching your jaw muscles by trying to open your mouth as wide as possible can help. (Perhaps this is part of the reason that yawning feels so good.) Moving your jaw slowly from side-to-side can help also. But you may want to do a bit more.

A quick websearch pulled up this page at on something they call ‘mentalrobics.’ This page mentions that tight jaw muscles can also contribute to back pain and tension headaches. I’m going to use the old disclaimer that I’m not a doctor and that you follow their advice at your own risk, but they mention an exercise that may help you learn not to clench. I would be careful about their instructions to “try hard” with the exercise, but judicious use of it may help you relax.

And relaxation almost always means better performance in golf.