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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Learning to Feel the Swing

(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 any diagrams as if you were looking in a mirror.)

This will be the final series of Project Brian… at least until next year, since Brian says the courses in Canada have mostly closed for the season. This series will deal with arm and hand motion, now that we’ve finished discussing leg action.

Well, almost finished. There was one question Brian asked about leg action that I forgot to answer, but it will serve as a suitable introduction to this series.

Brian asked me What move triggers the downswing? Is opening the front knee the way I start the downswing? These questions were mixed in with other technical questions, but they all boil down to a single problem.

In essence, he’s asking how I feel my swing.

This question is at the heart of why we have so many different teachers and teaching methods. Each of us feels a swing differently, and until you can identify how the proper moves feel to you, individually, you’re going to struggle. Every teacher is seeking a set of feelings that can be taught to a student, and there are any number of ways that a swing can be felt; hence, we get a lot of teachers and methods.

The real problem is that the way we can best feel a swing may not be obvious at first. Brian wanted to know how I feel that leg movement I dissected during the last series, and it’s a good example of how feel works in a swing. It took me some time to find the right words, Brian, but here goes, described as if I were lefthanded:

When I start my downswing, I feel as if I am driving the outside edge of my right foot straight down into the ground.

Not what you expected, is it? In some ways it should make sense; as I move to the top of my backswing, my right foot rolls up onto its inner edge, and my heel barely rises off the ground. When I start down, I replant my right foot and it rolls to the outside, which means my knee swings around and my hip opens up as it swings back.

But, you may ask, why don’t I feel that I’m rolling my foot rather than driving its edge straight down into the ground?

This is why feel is so difficult to teach. You see, my typical error is to slide my hips too much. (Imagine a bump drill where I shatter the door jamb as my hip penetrates six inches into the wall!) Because of that, I need a feel that helps me avoid my error. Since my error is lateral, I have adopted a feel that is vertical. When I use it, I don’t slide nearly as much; in my case, it actually helps me open my hip better.

So you see, feel isn’t just about the motion you want; it’s also about the motion you DON’T want. The ideal feel not only encourages the correct move, but it also discourages the wrong move. No matter who teaches you, no matter what method you use, ultimately you have to determine what your swing feels like.

And when it comes to hand and arm motion, this is doubly true. That’s what we’ll look at next.


  1. You're right - that was not what I expected you to say Mike!
    Very interesting thoughts though...

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    PS - this is more relevant to your other News of the Week post, but I'm wondering what you thought about Tiger's club toss (he spiked his driver and it bounced into the crowd)?
    Tsk tsk Tiger!

  2. I think... it's more appropriate for Tiger to pounce than his driver!

    Seriously though, while I would never suggest that Tiger is mentally weak in any way, I do think this indicates some frustration with his game that we've never seen before. It's definitely something he needs to work on during the off-season; despite the 7 wins this year, this tells me something is not right in Tiger's jungle.

    As for the unexpected "swing thought," I think what's important for you to understand that what you DON'T want to do is as important as what you do want when deciding on a swing thought. This is where a lot of players trip up; you want to feel yourself moving properly. It's always much more effective to have a single swing thought (move this way) rather than two (move this way AND don't move that way).