Monday, November 30, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup

Winners: Italy (Eduardo & Francesco Molinari)

Molto bene, Italia! The Molinari brothers became the first Italians to win the World Cup, as well as the first brothers. (I guess that also makes them the first Italian brothers to win. Just being thorough.) You can get a full lowdown on the tournament from Ryan Ballengee at Waggle Room; I’m just going to give you some background for today’s limerick.

Turin (in Italian, Torino) is part of the Piedmont area of Italy. (By coincidence, I live in what is known as the Piedmont area of North Carolina.) The Piedmont is perhaps best known for producing some of the best wines in the world. Turin has also been a capital for chocolate production since the 16th Century. (You gotta love that! Unfortunately, I found no room for that tidbit in the limerick. I always feel bad when I have to ignore chocolate.)

Of course, you all know who Antonio Stradivari is, so I won’t bore you with details. However, for those of you who saw the History Channel special Little Ice Age, Big Chill and heard the theory that Strad violins sound unique because of special atmospheric conditions during Stradivari’s lifetime, you might want to check this blog post. It seems that scientists believe they may have found a way to duplicate Stradivari’s work.

And now, here is today’s limerick:
Francesco and Ed Molinari
Played more like the great Stradivari.
With fine Piedmont vino,
The pair from Torino
Downed rivals like fried calamari.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Julius Boros Talks about Swing Keys

Over the next month (yeah, I’m gonna be lazy over the holidays) I thought I’d do some posts featuring things that great players have said about their swings. Hopefully these posts will show just how varied the approaches of successful players have been, and maybe they’ll inspire some improvement in your game for the coming year.

Julius Boros was a 3-time Major winner (1952 & 1963 US Open, 1968 PGA Championship). That last major, won at age 48, made him the oldest player ever to win a major – a record that still stands, since Tom Watson fell just short at this year’s Open Championship. Boros was a very “handsy” player, and he wrote something in his book How to Swing with an Effortless Swing that fits in very well with our recent discussions about feel (as you read this, remember that Boros is righthanded):
Some people feel that the “key” in golf is the left shoulder. Others talk about the left hip. I prefer to emphasize the hands. Proper hand action is my big key. If my hands work correctly everything else falls into place. While I cannot see my hands at all times in the swing, I can feel what they are doing much more easily than I can feel, say, my left shoulder or hip. (p.55)
I don’t quote this to try and prove that hand action is important. Rather, I want you to key in on that last sentence. Why does Boros say that he keys in on hand action?

Because what his hands are doing is the easiest thing for him to feel during his swing. Since he can always know what his hands are doing, his hand action is his primary swing key.

What aspect of your swing you can feel most clearly? Is there something that feels good when you swing well… and feels bad when you swing poorly? Maybe this is a clue to finding a useful swing key for you. Finding this key helped Boros win three majors; it might help you as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Falling into Your Shot

This is another Practice BRAINge image, but it’s extremely simple and more helpful than you might expect. The first time you try it, though, you may want to have a golf ball handy. And just what are you going to do with that golf ball?

You’re going to drop it.


That’s all, just drop it. From shoulder height, to be exact.

What I want you to do is get a feel for how long it takes the ball to drop from shoulder height and hit the ground. You don’t even have to look at it; no, you’ll know when you let go of the ball… and you’ll hear when it lands.

Just listen. Feel how long it takes the ball to cover the distance from shoulder to ground… then imagine your downswing taking the same amount of time. Feel your muscles moving from the top of the swing and down to strike the ball during that time. Let your lower body start the motion; feel your arms start down slowly, then gradually speed up until they blast the clubhead through the golf ball and send it screaming down the middle of the fairway. Feel the club start down just a split second before your upper body starts to uncoil. Imagine that you have all the time in the world to get the club from here to there, and just let it happen.

That’s the image, and it will help you learn to feel how fast your swing should be. It will internalize the speed of the motion, so you can focus on just swinging. It will particularly help you stop jerking the club at the start of the downswing. And you won’t need a club to practice it, so you can do it anywhere, anytime.

It’s perfect for winter practice sessions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Complete Series List

As promised, here's the complete listing of all the posts (in order). This will give Brian an easy way to look back over all the things we talked about, and maybe it'll help the rest of you with your games as well.

And I'll repeat this once more: The comments are always open. If you have a question about a particular post, just leave a comment on it. I'll find it and give you a response. (Hopefully a helpful one!)


The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 1 (Some Basics)
  1. Introducing The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor
  2. A Look at Brian's Grip
  3. Fanning the Club Open on the Way Back
  4. The Dreaded Chicken Wing of Death
  5. Swinging in a Barrel
  6. Feeling the Start of the Downswing

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 2 (Leg & Hip Action)
  1. Some Further Thoughts About Leg Action, Part 1
  2. Some Further Thoughts About Leg Action, Part 2
  3. Why Hip Action Matters
  4. Doing the Bump
  5. The "Feel Drill" Revisited
  6. More About That Lead Leg

The Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor, Series 3 (Hand & Arm Action)
  1. Learning to Feel the Swing
  2. The Full Motion Punch Shot
  3. Why We Start with a Punch
  4. That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 1
  5. That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 2
  6. Swing and Sweep
  7. Tie It Together

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tie It Together

Ok, I've talked about the sequence of movements that start the downswing, the importance of the arms starting down just before you uncoil, and about feeling the pressure in your hands and wrists when the club reaches the end of its travel to the top of the swing.

Now let's tie it all together. Brian, this should answer most of your questions about what's happening at the change of direction and the first move down. I won't promise that it'll solve all your problems, but you need to understand what you're trying to do in order to find a way to do it consistently.

While replanting your right foot and starting that knee moving is the first move in the downswing (and remember, you'll have to determine how you feel that movement), you could argue that feeling the club's pressure against your wrists is the actual start of the downswing. As you become more sensitive to that pressure, you'll get to where you can anticipate it. That will allow you to choose when you start the downswing:
  • If you want to make an approach shot to the green, where consistency of distance is important, you'll make the first move of your downswing just as you feel the pressure in your hands. This way, your wrists uncock in a fairly predictable and therefore consistent manner, and you can be pretty sure how far the ball is going to go.
  • If you want to drive the ball as far as possible, you'll make the first move of your downswing just before you feel that pressure. That way, you'll be able to carry as much wrist cock as possible into the swing as long as you can. I don't care what you may hear, you don't "hold" your wrist cock; rather, wrist cock is delayed automatically if you start the club down at the right moment. However, because you're anticipating the pressure, there's guesswork involved; so you never know exactly when the wrists will fully uncock, and therefore you don't have any idea exactly how far the ball will go. That's why we only use this method when the exact distance isn't important.
Once you decide when you want to start down, you replant your right foot, the right knee starts to move, the hips turn slightly, and the arms drop a little. That's the sequence, but it happens so fast that you'll probably find it easier to think of it all as a single move. Once you are solidly into that move, then you uncoil and the swing happens really fast after that!

And with that, I'll call this the end of the Ruthless Golf Project: Brian McGregor post series. I'm going to do one more post just to put together a complete listing of all the post titles, complete with links, so individual posts are easier to find. As usual, though, the comments are always open; anybody (not just Brian) who has a question can add a comment to any post and I'll find it. Once I do, I'll do my best to give you a helpful answer.

I hope this series leaves you with a clear understanding of what happens during the swing and how to solve some of the most common swing problems.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swing and Sweep

(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.)

Brian asked me several weeks ago if there was a way to feel the resistance at the top of the swing as strongly as you can with the feel drill. I’m not sure anything could give you a feel that strong short of swinging a steel pipe; however, this post should help you learn to feel the club’s weight better.

A traditional method of learning about the golf swing involves a piece of twine with a weight on one end. Also traditional was the use of a penknife for that weight; I suppose it was something most people carried with them back then. Because you can’t force a weighted string to make a swinging motion by muscle alone, teachers used it to teach students what a true swinging motion feels like.

The drill actually has a lot of applications for learning the golf swing. I spent an entire chapter on it in my book Ruthless Putting, where I used it in tandem with a putter to teach distance control. In today’s post, although we won’t use a weighted string, I’m going to show you how a similar technique can help you learn to feel the change of direction. I call it the swing and sweep. You can use either a short broom, if you have one, or a wedge for this drill.

Take your normal grip on the wedge (or broom handle) and keep your hands, forearms, and shoulders as relaxed as possible without letting go of the club. You don’t have to ground the club and it doesn’t have to touch the floor at any point during the drill, so you should be able to hold it pretty lightly. What you want to do is swing the club back and forth, not letting your hands go higher than waist-high but allowing your shoulders to turn freely. The head of the club will probably go about shoulder-high at either end of this abbreviated swing. Just swing it back-and-forth like a pendulum, and pay attention to what you feel.

You’ll probably notice some unusual sensations, like how fast the clubhead seems to be moving. This is a surprise to most people; they think it’s going to move very slowly, but they end up moving their hands faster than anticipated in order to keep up… which causes the club to pick up even more speed. (I’m not saying it’s going to go so fast that it flies out of your hands, folks – only that it moves faster than you may expect.)

What I want you to focus on during this drill is the end of the backswing, where your hands stop but the clubhead is still moving. Try to feel the pressure on your wrists when the clubhead finally stops going back. This may or may not be easy for you, but keep trying. It’ll come. This pressure is not quite as strong as it is during a full swing, so if you can feel this, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the regular swing.

Since the swing is short and the club doesn’t have to hit the ground, you can probably find someplace to do this drill inside during the winter. You don’t have to spend a lot of time practicing, either; spending 30-60 seconds a couple of times a day would probably be considered working hard. But if you use it regularly for the next few months of cold weather, you should have developed a lot of sensitivity to your swing by spring.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 LPGA Tour Championship

Winner: Anna Nordqvist

Oh, you lucky people... TWO limericks in one week!

Of course, the PGA season is over, so I'm having to seek out other tournaments for the weekly limerick. The problem this week was... well... there were TWO big tournaments: The final European Tour championship (which I "poeticized" yesterday) and the final LPGA tournament, which finished today. Being a huge fan of the LPGA, I couldn't ignore this one.

Some of you may remember that my last LPGA summary was a sonnet. I'm sorry, that was just too work right now, what with all the other things I have going on. So, a limerick it is.

And what a limeri - er, tournament it was! Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin literally went down to the last putt, with Shin barely missing a birdie to give Lorena "Player of the Year" honors by a single point! (For those of you who don't know, the LPGA awards are given on the basis of a point system. Personally, I much prefer a system like this, which is based on achievement, as opposed to the PGA, which prefers to play favorites. I mean, really – no Comeback Player of the Year Award, simply because they didn't want to give it to Tiger? Come on!)

For those of you keeping score, Ochoa got POY and the Vare (scoring) Trophy; Shin got Rookie of the Year and the money list title. All poor Anna Nordqvist got was the WIN, but nobody seemed to notice. For the record, other than Ochoa and Shin, who each won three times, Nordqvist is the only other player with multiple wins this season. She also won the McDonald's LPGA Championship; that's one major and the Tour Championship... and she hasn't even been a pro for a full season yet! She should have gotten more attention for the win today.

At any rate, the LPGA's wild year drama and intrigue is over now, and here's my tribute:
The LPGA’s been a drama queen
This year – highs and lows, with no inbetween.
Ochoa beat Shin for
The POY (that’s four),
Then Nordqvist beat both… but she made no scene.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Dubai World Championship

Winner: Lee Westwood

All the talk this year has been about the young guns, of whom Rory McIlroy seems to be the "alpha male." Well, the alpha male slipped up this weekend.

Don't get me wrong. I really do like Rory McIlroy. He's an extremely talented player, and he seems to have his head screwed on straight. But I'm tired of this mindset that says it's a young man's game and, once one of them plays well, it's just a matter of time before Tiger is trembling in his billion dollar shoes. No matter how well the older guys play, it seems that nobody wants to admit they still have a chance.

So it did my heart good to see Lee Westwood win both the tournament and the season-long Race to Dubai. After falling nearly 200 places from his heyday early in the decade, he's finally worked his way back to the top and, best of all, finally seems to believe he belongs there. That's good news, not just for European golf, but for American golf as well. Westwood had some legit chances at the majors this year, and now he's got to be part of the discussion in 2010. Way to go, Lee!

All that is to say... I hope you Rory McIlroy fans will forgive me if this limerick has a bit of a chip on its shoulder...
“In the Race to Dubai,” said the purist,
“Rory McIlroy’s win is the surest!”
But the Westwood resurgence
Squelched Rory’s emergence;
The first-class flight ended up tourist.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 2

(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.)

Yesterday was kind of a “theory” post, looking more at how you think about the change of direction. Today we’ll look at Brian’s other questions, which are more about the actions themselves:
  • What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?
  • I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jamb drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?
First, the “bump” and the door jamb drill are the same thing – namely, a movement where the hips move toward the target during the downswing. After that, it gets a little complicated.

See, here’s the problem: Both questions are about the same thing. How do I start my downswing? Believe it or not, the answer is the same for everybody; it’s just that everybody feels the downswing differently, so it seems like there are a hundred different answers.

A number of things happen in sequence during the downswing:
  1. If your right foot came off the ground at the top of the backswing, you replant that foot firmly on the ground, which starts your right knee moving. If your foot is still flat on the ground at the top, the knee move happens first.
  2. The right knee begins to swing around as your hips turn ever-so-slightly to the right, which creates a very slight “bump-and-slide” to the right.
  3. Your weight shifts from your left side to your replanted right foot. (It doesn’t really shift – that’s just how you perceive changes in muscle pressure – but this is an easy way for most people to understand it.)
  4. Your arms pivot downward a little at the shoulder joints. (These first four items feel almost simultaneous, but they happen in this order.)
Now, this sequence of events causes two other sequences to happen simultaneously:
  1. The right foot rolls onto its outside edge as the right knee continues to swing around and straighten slightly, which causes the right hip to move up and back. (This is the opening of the hip everybody talks about.) This, in turn, pulls the left hip around, which pulls the left leg up and around, and that makes the left foot roll and pivot up on the toe. (The left leg does actually push a little, and some players feel that push more than the pull on the right side.)
  2. The arms continue to move downward as the upper body turns back to face the ball. The arms straighten and square the club as the wrists uncock. The momentum of the upper body causes it to continue turning through contact to face the target, and the momentum of the arms causes them to swing up and finish over the shoulders.
Of course, these two sequences are feeding on each other, each helping power each other. The hips and legs are pulling the upper body around, but the arms and club are making it easier and easier for the lower body to turn. (In fact, near the end of it all, the lower body is actually acting as a brake, slowing down the rotation of the upper body.)

Obviously, the first link in the chain is the right foot/right knee move, so that’s the move that starts the downswing. However – and this is VERY important – because all four of those actions I mentioned happen so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous, a player might feel ANY ONE OF THEM as the way the downswing starts. One teacher says it’s a weight shift to the right, another says it’s a bump-and-slide to the right, a third focuses on the slide, a fourth says you need to drop your shoulder, and still others might focus on the elbows. In the late 80s, I think it was Golf Magazine that ran a cover story on Davis Love III and his “power move,” which (I’m paraphrasing here) they described as pushing the hands away from the body at the start of the downswing to increase wrist cock. That's how Davis felt the combination of actions that started his downswing; Jim McLean’s “V-Gap” is almost exactly the same thing, yet it’s described in entirely different terms… and different feels.

That’s why so many players are confused, and why there are so many teachers apparently saying different things. And it’s why I call it the “fuzzy” feeling at the top; it’s hard to give a definitive answer to how it feels, because everyone’s different.

If you try the first four moves I mentioned above in slow motion, you’ll see how each one causes the next so quickly that they’re almost simultaneous. And you’ll see that they ALL have to happen when the swing starts; it’s simple physics. But which of these moves you FEEL when you start down is different from player to player, and THAT FEEL is what most players are referring to when they talk about the first move of the downswing.

So Brian, the answer is… the right foot/right knee move is the move that starts the downswing, but you may feel that move in any of several different ways. The starting move is the same for everybody, but the feel of that starting move is what differs… and only you can determine how it feels to you. What I’m trying to do is teach you how the moves are done, so you can do them and find out how they feel to you; then you can use that feel when you make your swing. The goal is to learn the correct mechanics, then identify how they feel to you so you can forget about mechanics on the course and just play golf by feel.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

That Fuzzy Feeling at the Top, Part 1

(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.)

Yesterday I promised to try and answer some of Brian’s other questions about timing and mechanics. Specifically, these are the questions he asked, from his comments on this post:
  • What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?
  • I've read much in the past about the "bump" of the hips forward. Does the sensation of the door jamb drill amount to the "bump" and if so, should that be the first movement from the top?
  • Are the hands still going back as the hips open up? Hank Haney seems to believe that.
  • Does the club ever stop on the backswing? (Actually, Brian never asked this question, but it’s more common way of asking the Haney question and we need to answer both to avoid confusion.)
I’ll answer the “theory” questions (the last two) today; I’ll answer the others tomorrow.

Does the club ever stop on the backswing? In a word, yes… unless you loop the club at the top. It makes sense if you think about it: The club is moving away from the ball, and it has to change direction to come back. Unless it loops (makes a U-turn) at the top, it’s going to have to stop at some point. BUT…

Are the hands still going back as the hips open up? Technically, yes… but for the majority of players, that knowledge won’t help them one single bit. Haney’s not the only one who teaches this; my hero Bobby Jones does as well. In fact, for one of his filmed lessons in the How to Break 90 series, they actually shot a high-speed sequence where you can see his hands continuing to make a backswing while his lower body clearly starts moving toward the target.

But here’s the rub: It is a HIGH-SPEED sequence. When you shoot a golf swing at hundreds, even thousands of frames-per-second (fps), you can mislead people badly. (For those of you who don’t know, the standard film speed of a movie is 24 fps, and TV is 30 fps.) For example, Discovery Channel’s show Time Warp, which shoots high-speed footage of events like a balloon popping, uses cameras capable of 325,000 fps… which would take three hours to replay at normal speed, according to this New York Times article. It can take several tenths of a second for a person to blink an eye, yet a tenth of a second at this speed would take over 18 minutes to play back. That can distort how you perceive the action.

Most golf swings aren’t shot at that high a speed; CBS Sports’ Swing Vision claims only 40,000 fps and typically uses 10,000 fps. (You can read about it here.) Obviously, CBS doesn’t show us all the frames they recorded when they replay the swing for us. Still, the replay takes around eight seconds, which is far longer than the original. We can now analyze movements in the golf swing that happen too quickly for us to control directly! And that can distort our perceptions, because we can’t accurately equate the movement we see in the slow motion replay to the actual time required by the original move.

For example, I can detect when this lag happens in my swing, but not soon enough to do anything about it. If I were to say “Now!” when the lag happened, it would be over long before the word could get out. (And “lag” is the word generally used to describe this disconnection in the change of direction.)

From a practical standpoint, most players will swing better if they simply act as though there is no lag. Lag happens automatically when you swing properly… so just let it. Rather than trying to control the change of direction, which happens too quickly and feels a bit “fuzzy” because… well, remember the whip image I suggested in the Practice BRAINge? The pulse runs up the length of the whip, affecting each portion at a slightly different time, but too quickly for each portion to be specifically identified. Since the pulse will affect every portion on its own, without any interference from us, it’s easier to just think about cracking the whip…

And instead of trying to control the lag, it’s much easier to just think about smacking the ball. As I said in the image, starting the downswing corresponds to moving the whip handle. So tomorrow, we’ll look at how we start down.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why We Start with a Punch

(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.)

So how did you do with yesterday’s little puzzle? Did you figure out how a punch shot can teach us to use our shoulders properly? I gave you a hint: Wrists are shock absorbers.

If you swing to the top of your backswing with no wrist cock and then cock your wrists, you’ll feel all kinds of movement and flexes. You won’t feel them just in your wrists, but through all the joints and muscles in your arms and shoulders. Each of these movements represents a place where your swing can be altered a little, mostly without your notice. A little twist here, a slight flex there… and suddenly joints are bending in slightly different planes, and the club is being pulled a bit to the side rather than straight.

By keeping the wrists uncocked with the punch shot, we eliminate a lot of little things that can alter our shot; that allows us to focus on one particular aspect of our swing.

In this case, the punch allows us to focus on our swing path.

Brian, you said you’re having problems with pulling your shots, which means you have an outside-to-inside swing path. During your downswing, the club swings out over your target line and then cuts across it on the followthrough; some teachers call this “coming over the top.” The shots start to your right and often curve farther right – a duck hook. (Some of you may pull the shot but leave the clubface open; you end up hitting a pull slice.) Some of this was caused by overactive legs, which we worked on “toning down” in the last series of posts. Now we can work directly on your swing path.

Because the punch doesn’t allow the joints and muscles to cover things up as much, we can track down the cause of this problem much quicker. I suspect you’re starting your shoulders too soon in the downswing. We could call this lunging or jerking or twisting or any number of other things, but it simply means you start uncoiling your upper body a little faster than you should. If you do that with the punch shot, you’re going to hit a huge pull because there’s no way for the joints and muscles to absorb any of the movement.

How do you stop this problem? Again, the punch makes it easier to learn the correct move. Because you can’t use all those joints and muscles as much, you’ll have to let your arms drop a little before your shoulders start to turn. (“Drop” is the correct word here; your shoulder joints are the only place movement can happen with the punch shot, and tensing your shoulder muscles in an effort to generate power will just cause them to hurt.) Your arms start to drop as your lower body begins the downswing; a split second later, your upper body begins to turn in reaction to your lower body. (In other words, your lower body will start pulling your upper body around.) That may sound tricky, but it actually feels pretty natural once you do it a few times. You may need to do it slowly at first to get used to it, especially if you’ve been jerking those shoulders around to start the downswing.

Brian, even though the golf courses are closed up there, you might try swinging a club in your backyard to get the feel of the punch shot. That will give you a basis for tomorrow's post, when I’ll try to answer some of the other questions you had about timing and mechanics.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Full Motion Punch Shot

(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.)

We’ve talked about how to use the lower body. Now we need to learn how to use the upper body―the arms and hands―so that it syncs up with the lower body and doesn’t sabotage all our good work so far.

Ironically, the best way to learn how to use the arms and hands properly is to learn how not to use them at all. Specifically, I’m going to start you off with what I call a punch shot.

As I’ve said before, I approach the golf swing backwards from most teachers. I believe you start with the putting stroke; then you gradually stretch it out longer and longer, making small adjustments to complement the longer stroke, until you have a full swing. If you check the posts in the Basic Principles of the Game category, you’ll find that what I call a punch shot is essentially a chip shot that has been lengthened by the addition of a full upper body coil. There’s no wrist cock to the swing; in a full-motion punch shot, the club shaft remains in the same relationship to the arms that it does at setup, or at the halfway point of a one-piece takeaway.

In essence, at the top of a full punch, the club shaft sticks straight up in the air.

Why would you want to learn a swing like this? There are some tactical uses that I’ll cover at some future point, but its most important use right now is that it teaches us to use our shoulders properly. I’ll cover the shot itself tomorrow, but here’s a chance for you to use your mind to help you improve…

See if you can figure out why the punch shot teaches us how to use our shoulders. Here’s a hint: Wrists are shock absorbers.

Check your answer tomorrow. Good luck!

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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The News of the Week

Today, just a few newsy bits that I find interesting:

The good news just keeps coming for the LPGA. Shoprite is back as a tournament sponsor after three years away. I know this has to have been in the works for a while, but coming as it does on the heels of Michelle Wie's victory, I can't help but wonder if her victory (as well as the good showing by the other Americans) didn't end any last-minute doubts Shoprite may have had. At any rate, it's good to have another tourney on the 2010 schedule. My only question is why they chose to schedule it opposite the U.S. Open...

The R&A has made a slight reversal to their Open rules; they've decided to allow any past winner who gets a Top Ten a five-year exemption. This unexpected change can be chalked up to three letters: T-O-M. Watson's finish in this year's Open has perhaps caused the powers-that-be to recognize that good golf has no real age limit. This new rule allows them to give a truly deserving player a few more shots at history without really changing the age limits. It also gives them Greg Norman for three more years. Thumb's-up to the R&A for finding a way to keep some legends in the tournament.

Finally, Doug Barron has asked to be allowed to go to Q-School while the courts sort out the whole doping scandal... and the judge seems to be having trouble coming to a decision. I've been reading all kinds of opinions on the web, and it amazes me that no one has commented on what I believe is the real issue at stake here.

Regardless of your opinion about Doug Barron and the drugs, the fact remains that Barron was on them under a doctor's supervision. Here's what the court will ultimately decide: Does a sports organization have the right to overrule an athlete's personal doctor? This decision could have some serious repercussions beyond sports; remember, many employers routinely test their workers for drugs. This is the sort of precedent that could engender all sorts of abuse. I think this is going to be a real hot potato for the courts.

Of course, these are just my opinions... but it's my blog, so I guess they matter!

What do the rest of you think?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 Fall Finish, Complete

2009 Turning Stone Championship
Winner: Matt Kuchar
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.

2009 Timberlake Shriners Open
Winner: Martin Laird
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.”

2009 Frys.com Open
Winner: Troy Matteson
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.

2009 Viking Classic
Tournament cancelled due to unplayable conditions

The birdie of choice was a ducky
As a flood turned the golf course all mucky.
Even if the guys waded,
They couldn’t have played it;
Guess the bubble boys just got unlucky.

2009 Children's Miracle Network Classic
Winner: Stephen Ames
The Miracle Network does magic
For children whose lives could be tragic.
Here’s a fitting conceit:
Stephen Ames’s win was sweet
While some others found Disney ellagic.

The Limerick Summary: Children's Miracle Network Classic

Winner: Stephen Ames

It feels a little strange doing this week's limerick. I realize that the Disney tournament was make or break for a lot of dreamers on Tour... I realize that Tiger made big news by winning the JBWere Masters in Australia... I realize that Rory McIlroy took over the top spot in the Race to Dubai with only next week's championship left.

Still, I can't help but feel that the biggest news this week was Michelle Wie getting her first win at the LPGA Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She did it on a bum ankle, no less! And after several wayward shots that easily could have put her out of the tournament, as well as pressure from a group of hard-charging veteran players, she finished out in style with a world-class bunker shot that left her a tap-in for the win. The reception she got from her Solheim Cup teammates on the green afterward showed just how popular this win will be with the Tour. A big shout-out to Michelle for breaking through!

Now that she's won her first tournament, I suppose (just like in the commercials) she'll be headed for Disney...

Which is the subject of this week's limerick. (Smooth segueway, huh?)

Anyway, after bubble boy David Duval (among others) failed to make the cut, ending their hopes of retaining their cards without a trip to Q-School, several players managed to get the job done. Ricky Barnes and Rich Beem both held on, among others. But in the end, it came down to a playoff between three guys whose cards were never in doubt - George McNeill, Justin Leonard, and Stephen Ames. Ames went par, par for the win.
The Miracle Network does magic
For children whose lives could be tragic.
Here’s a fitting conceit:
Stephen Ames’s win was sweet
While some others found Disney ellagic.
(I'll spare you the trip to the dictionary. Ellagic means bitter. See, limericks are educational, too!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Putt or Chip?

You've missed the green on your approach shot. Hmmm... should you putt the ball or chip it?

This is a big question for many players. Even the pros struggle with it sometimes, as you may have noticed if you watched much golf this weekend. What is the determining factor for choosing the putt over the chip... or vice versa?

To be honest, there aren't any clear-cut, always-true answers. I talked about this some in my book Ruthless Putting. The height of the rough, the distance between the ball and the green, the skills you bring to the game, your comfort level, even the type of round you're playing (match play vs. stroke play) can influence your decision. Sometimes you just know what you should do. But when you can't decide, here are some basic guidelines that can help you overcome your indecision.
  1. If the ball is sitting down in the rough, chip. If the grass is thick and the ball will roll along the top, putt. If the grass is thick enough, you can putt even in taller grass. Just remember that you'll still have to stroke the ball more firmly than you would if the grass was shorter.
  2. If the ball is very close to the hole and the green runs away from you, a flubbed putt may be better than a flubbed chip. Which shot will leave you the least trouble if you don't hit it well? This is a defensive play, so choose the shot you feel is safest.
  3. Forget that whole "acceleration" thing. You've probably been told you need to accelerate the club through the ball to get a solid shot. If you aren't confident, this advice often leads to stubbed or skulled shots. Rather than trying to accelerate, take a longer backswing and try to swing at a constant speed. You're more likely to get that acceleration you want this way, since gravity will accelerate your club automatically, and also more likely to hit the ball solidly.
  4. Don't get cute with the shot. Unless you really trust your short game, don't try to do anything fancy. Just make sure your next stroke is a putt. Leaving yourself a ten-foot putt is better than leaving another shot from the rough on the other side of the green.
And don't forget the other option: Use a wood or a hybrid. Often the slight loft of these clubs will allow you to use your putting stroke while still getting the ball up in the air like a chip. This is often the best of both worlds, and can make an otherwise difficult shot seem simple.

There often aren't any right or wrong answers when it comes to the short game. Even Tom Watson, after he missed out at the Open Championship this year, said he felt better when Jack Nicklaus told him he'd made the right choice. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it's always too late to help us... so just relax and make the best choice you can. You'll learn and improve from it, even if you do hit a bad shot.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crack the Whip

The first Practice BRAINge image may seem a bit strange to some of you. I've mentioned that you can play a mental round of golf, trying to imagine every aspect of the round as you play. You would try to employ all your senses, and feel all your muscles as you make your strokes. This is one very effective way to literally "play mindgames."

But swing thoughts don't need to be so literal or complex. In fact, designing an image to counteract a specific problem can lead to some unusual mental pictures.

In this one, I want you to summon your inner Indiana Jones and become a bullwhip.

Why a bullwhip?
  • Because many of us get too tense standing over the ball.
  • Because relaxed muscles create more speed, and that means more distance.
OK, here's the image:

A bullwhip is flexible without being a limp noodle. It's got some strength to it, so it won't encourage sloppiness. It's stiffer at the handle and gets more flexible as it moves to the tip. And it only takes a small amount of movement at the handle end to make a lot of movement at the tip. That small movement travels as a pulse, or a wave, or a ripple (choose the one that makes the most sense to you) from one end to the other.

The handle is in the foot closest to the target, the one that starts the downswing. (That's the left foot for a righty, the right foot for a lefty.) The whip stretches up through your body to your shoulders, down your arms, through the hands, and into the club. Of course, the tip is in the face of the club, where it will crack the ball with a snap.

And here's a rough description of how cracking the whip feels:

The small movement of the handle happens when you replant that foot to start the downswing. As the ripple runs up your leg, it successively causes your hip to open toward the target, the shoulders to turn back toward the ball, your relaxed wrists to start down toward the ball (which increases the wrist cock), and finally the head of the club to whip around and crack against the ball. It happens very rapidly, and what you're trying to feel is that pulse of power surging from your foot to the clubhead at lightning speed.

Obviously you aren't going to contort like a whip when you feel this. But what you should feel is a relaxed surge of power that rotates your body through its swing. This is your image; you can direct that energy in any direction you please! You might try using a club (you don't have to actually hit a ball) just to get a clear feeling of how your body is moving during the change of direction and downswing.

Focus on that relaxed power. This image should help you learn not to tense up when you swing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Introducing the Practice BRAINge

Brian left a comment late Wednesday on this post to let me know that golf season was pretty much over in Canada. He also said that his last three rounds had been the best of the year, which makes me feel pretty darn good!

Still, it got me thinking. Many of us don't get to play much golf this time of year―some because of the weather, some just because of family obligations during the holidays. If we improved this year, how can we hold onto the gains when we can't get out and play? And if our game needs work, isn't there something we can do to get ready for the new season?

I think there may be. I've read about people who were prisoners of war or were imprisoned for their religious or political beliefs, who, in order to keep from being broken, began mentally playing sports. They would imagine a round of golf or a tennis match in extreme detail, trying to actually experience the memories; they would smell the freshly-mown fairways, or feel the fuzziness of the tennis balls. They would try to imagine their muscle movements, feeling the stretches and strains as they played the game.

What interests me is that many of these people actually improved their games while imprisoned!

Scientists say this happens because the brain can't distinguish between reality and imagination if the images are realistic enough. If you've ever had your heart race at a horror movie, you've experienced this phenomenon.

Therefore I'm introducing the practice BRAINge, which will show up as a new listing in the sidebar category list. Every so often, I'll add a new "practice session" that focuses on a vivid mental image, one that will help you to better feel a good golf swing. The idea is that, when you have a few seconds, you can focus on one of these images and help your mind "groove" this feel. Hopefully, when you get back to the course, these practice sessions will help you swing better.

Granted, this is an experiment, but it certainly won't hurt to try some of them over the winter. When the new season starts, I'll be interested to see if these images help any of you get off to a quicker start. You can just put a comment on the relevant post if it does.

I'll post the first BRAINge session tomorrow, and then I'll add a new one every so often. I hope you all find them helpful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Playing in Wet Weather

The remnants of now-tropical depression Ida are pounding my windows, much as they are all over the southeastern United States. Although the pros playing at Disney this week will probably have to deal with some soggy conditions, weekend golfers don't have to play under such conditions unless they choose to.

Still, sometimes you end up playing in the muck, so here's a few simple tips for those times. Most are just common sense, but maybe it's good to repeat the obvious.
  1. Dry off the grips before you swing. You don't want the club twisting in your hands.
  2. Keep your clubs as dry and clean as possible. Clean the muck off the face of the club after you hit; use a tee to get mud out of the grooves; dry the face before setting up to the ball. You'll make better contact, so your shots will be more consistent.
  3. Clean the ball whenever the rules allow. Mud on the ball can cause some unpredictable results.
  4. Use your legs less when you swing. Think about how you play bunkers. If your feet slip, you might do more than hit a bad shot; you might hurt your back.
  5. Finally, be aware of your surroundings. When you're playing in the muck, it's easy to overlook little things that you'd notice in clear weather. Those little things can add up to extra strokes... and extra injuries.
Personally, I think I'll let this patch of bad weather pass and just watch some golf on TV.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chunky Chips

No, not the chocolate kind. (They wouldn’t be a problem at all!) I’m talking about the embarrassing kind, where you can’t even get the ball on the green from a couple of feet away.

It doesn’t take a lot of practice to become a good chipper, but even the best players chunk them at times. (Even Tiger and Phil have hit poor chips over the last few weeks, and we consider them geniuses at the short game!) Fortunately, there are a couple of simple tips that can help even the worst chipper improve quickly.

You may have heard the first one stated this way: Hit the little ball before the big ball. That simply means you want to hit the golf ball before you hit the ground. (You did realize that Earth is the big ball, didn’t you?) The easiest way to do this is to move the ball back in your stance a little, just to make sure that you hit it while the club is still moving down. The taller the grass is around your ball, the farther you’ll need to move it back.

As a general rule, moving the ball back in your stance means that the ball will come out a little lower with more backspin. It will fly further onto the green before landing, but it won’t roll quite as far. Of course, the taller the grass is around your ball, the less backspin you’ll get and the farther the ball will roll… but that’s better than having another chip from the same spot.

The second tip helps when the lie is a little “fluffy”―you know the one, where the grass is so thick that the ball is suspended above the ground. These are the lies where the club sometimes goes right under the ball, leaving it pretty much where it was before you made your stroke. These may be the most embarrassing shots of all. (Other than shanks. Nobody likes a shank.)

Many players use a sand wedge for all their chips. (Among pros, Mickelson is the best known.) But the best way to avoid going under the ball is to use a “taller” club, like a 9-, 8-, of even 7-iron. Take a look at this diagram:

Fluffy lies with different irons

As you can see, the ball is sitting on a cushion of grass and not touching the ground. The top of the sand wedge doesn’t even make it halfway up the ball; it would be pretty easy for it to slide right under the ball and leave the ball in the rough. With the same lie, the short iron presents a much taller profile; even if it’s not a pretty shot, the iron will still hit the ball solidly enough to get it out of the rough.

Granted, if you short-sided yourself and don’t have much green to work with, the chip hit with the short iron may leave you a fairly long putt. But at least it will be a putt, not another chip from the same spot.

You can walk right out onto the course and use both of these tips without any practice at all. They won’t turn you into a scratch golfer, but they can certainly help prevent some double-bogeys. This is one area where golf truly is like life…

Sometimes you get can ahead if you just avoid compounding your first mistake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ernie Came Up Short

Literally. His approach shot to the 18th, which could have put some extra pressure on Phil, didn’t make it over the sloped front of the green and spun back into the water instead. It’s already increased the speculation over whether Ernie is struggling to finish off tournaments now.

Since I want to give Brian some time to work with the last series of Project posts from last week, I decided to spend this week looking at some of the problems dogging the pros lately and what we can learn from them. The debate over what happened to Ernie on the last hole of the HSBC Championship this weekend is the kind of thing I had in mind.

First of all, I don’t think Ernie’s got some “complex” about finishing tournaments. Coming up short on a long par-5 doesn’t seem that strange to me. But it’s a problem we weekend players have frequently.

Ironically, Ernie’s problem reminded me of something teacher Peter Kostis said. Before he stopped tweeting―at least, I can’t find him in my “follow” list anymore, and I didn’t delete him―I copied several of his “Twitter Tips,” including this one:
peterkostis Twitter tip #4. Make aggressive swings to conservative targets, not conservative (or defensive swings) to aggressive targets. 11:37 AM Sep 14th from web
When we’re faced with a risky shot (like a long carry over water), most of us tend to try and get cute with the shot. For example, we try to hit a near-perfect shot to a tight pin position. But we know it’s a tough shot, and we’re not confident we can make it. So what do we do? We take a little more club than necessary, which is not necessarily a bad idea… but then we “back off a smidge” because we’re afraid we took too much club. The result is some skanky shot that doesn’t even get close.

This is what Kostis calls a “conservative (or defensive swing) to an aggressive target.”

What we want to do is pick a target that, if we miss it, we won’t get in so much trouble that we can’t recover. (Ball in water, unplayable… bad. Ball just off green, but playable… good!) Then we make our normal swing aiming at that spot, knowing that a miss isn’t too bad. Maybe we make a bogey instead of a par, but that’s better than a double- or triple-bogey.

That’s an “aggressive swing to a conservative target.” That’s what you want to make.

Maybe your problem is a certain club you don’t feel comfortable hitting. (The shots Ernie has missed all seem to involve his 5-wood. I’d be replacing that club, if I was him!) Maybe you’re choosing bad targets, like my example earlier. Maybe you just have an ego problem with laying up. Whatever it is, the first step to improvement is to eliminate the disasters from your game. Unless you’ve got a really bad swing, most of your double- and triple- bogeys are the result of poor decisions… and you can fix those easily.

Ultimately, that’s what Ernie will do. He knows which mental mistakes are costing him down the stretch; all he needs to do is stop making them! And that’s something you can do as well as he can.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Limerick Summary: 2009 WGC-HSBC Championship

Winner: Phil Mickelson

Although this tournament has been around for a few years, this is the first time it’s been a World Golf Championship. It turned out to be an exciting finish, as Ryan Moore, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, and even Tiger Woods all had chances to win before succumbing to Phil Mickelson. Had his balky putter behaved, Phil would have won running away. Of course, had Ernie’s approach to the 18th not spun back into the water…?

Such are the fortunes of golf. (Of course, so is the $1.2 million Phil won!)

Even though this isn’t an official PGA Tour win (nor official money), Phil has to be pretty happy. He’s won 2 of the last 3 WGC events―quite an accomplishment, given Tiger’s domination of these events.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s today’s summary:
We got Moore of a show than expected.
Els and McIlroy both left dejected.
Near the end, Tiger sprinted
But Phil circumvented
Them all, and a win he collected.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

More About That Lead Leg

(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.)

Yesterday I wrote about needing to “tone down” the leg action that starts your downswing, and about how it’s so easy to overdo the movement if you don’t. Today I want to look a bit closer at the action of the lead leg―the one that “opens up” on the downswing, as Brian put it.

The diagram below isn’t a perfect representation of what the lead leg does during the swing, but is close enough for you to get a good idea of how it should look. The position of the vertical dotted lines is consistent in each portion of the diagram, so you can see the relative changes. Think of those lines as the door jamb from the bump drill; you can use that door jamb to give you some tactile feedback about your position. By the way, that huge circle represents your hip, not a head!

Positions of the lead leg during the swing

At setup, both hips are balanced over the feet. That’s clear enough, right?

In the next picture, you’ve turned to the top of the backswing. The lead knee has moved forward a little, and the lead hip has moved forward and down. Bear in mind that the back hip has moved in the opposite direction (back and up), so you still feel balanced.

In the final picture, you’ve struck the ball and are moving into your finish position. Remember how I said the hip movement isn’t a “turn and slide” as you may have heard, but is more of a “back and across” move? Look closely at this picture. The lead knee has straightened considerably; see how it touches the dotted line (door jamb)? The lead hip has moved up and back, in keeping with the position I described in the bump post; the door jamb should touch your hip roughly halfway between the side seam of your jeans and the zipper.

And of course the back hip has moved forward and down, since your back knee is remains bent. (That was in the second leg action post. You should still feel balanced.

If it seems like I’m belaboring the point, I am. You simply MUST get your hip to turn on the downswing, not slide. It’s really important to get your leg action correct before you start working on the arm action, because the leg muscles are responsible for the larger movements; if the large movements are too big, the arms have to work too hard and you’ll develop complex timing problems. (Brian, can you say “twisting forearms”?)

I’m going to make this the last post of Series 2. This series ended up being totally devoted to leg action, and this seems like a good place to wrap it up. In these posts we’ve dealt with each leg separately, as well as with both together. Take some time to make sure you understand the concepts here, so you can get your lower body moving properly. I’ll devote Series 3 to arm action, and we’ll deal with Brian’s other questions then.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The “Feel Drill” Revisited

(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.)

In Brian’s comments on “Feeling the Start of the Downswing” he wrote, “The door jamb drill really lets you feel the strength created by the turning of the front hip against the resistance of the back hand which is pressing against the door jamb - but what I can't get my head around is how to re-create that feeling in the swing, because there isn't really any resistance created by the arms at the top of the swing. How does one get that same feeling of resistance when only holding the club, and not an immovable object like the doorway?”

His confusion is understandable. Recreating the feel of that strong pull without the resistance of the jamb is nearly impossible, because you would need a club so heavy that it would wreck your back… if you could swing the club at all! The “feel drill” was meant to help you:
  1. understand what the start down feels like, and
  2. help you identify how your body feels when you start down properly.
Once you identify how the correct move feels to your body, you need to “tone it down a notch.” The door jamb drill is easy to feel simply because it is such a strength move; when you’re only using a club, the move is less violent. Toning it down is where so many players get messed up because we equate clubhead speed with the kind of physical effort that makes us grunt.

Most teachers these days say it’s better to start out swinging hard and then learn to control the resulting wild swing, so now everybody’s way too caught up in a power game. You may have heard it called “bomb and gouge”―hit it a mile into the rough, then gouge it out with a wedge. I try not to get too dogmatic about most teachings, but that one’s just plain wrong, no matter who’s teaching it. Length and accuracy are not mutually exclusive, so using power techniques that don’t make you accurate at the same time is just doing things the hard way. As a weekend player, you simply don’t have the time it takes to get good at that sort of game. (And it appears that most of the tour players don’t either, given how inconsistent most of them are.)

So, the answer to Brian’s question is “You have to make a mental adjustment. You don’t want the same feeling of resistance, because a club doesn’t weigh that much.”

Yes, Brian, there is resistance at the top of the swing. It’s the pressure your wrists feel when the movement of the club causes it to resist the change of direction. Once you stop trying so hard, your ability to feel this less dramatic amount of pressure on your wrists at the top of the swing will improve. I’ve already written some about feeling this pressure, in both the Single-Plane Loop and Deadhanded Approach Shot series listed in the sidebar, but I’ll be writing more posts about it (both in this series and in the future) simply because it’s the most important point in the swing… and yet it gets little or no attention.

So use the “feel drill” to discover how your body feels when it starts the club down properly, but remember that the actual swing isn’t nearly as stressful to your body. And since you don’t want to be tense when you swing, that’s a good thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing the Bump

(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.)

“The Bump” is a swing image often used to help players learn proper hip motion. It comes from the idea of bumping your hip against a wall, not from a dance move. I have eliminated arms and shoulders from the following diagram, as they merely cluttered it up. You can imagine where the arms should be.

Start and finish of the bump

Wow. Impressive, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good image to use… provided you perform the bump properly. As it is, most players don’t. Let me enlighten you about some finer points of the bump which are rarely emphasized.

First, I would prefer you to do the bump against a door jamb rather than a wall. Why? Because most walls have baseboards, which allow you an extra inch or so of movement. Many teachers talk about your hip sliding and bumping, but “bump” a jamb (again, not a dance move) and you’ll discover that there is no noticeable slide! From the top of your backswing, your hip will probably move less than six inches before bumping to an abrupt halt.

Try it on your own jamb. I bet you’ll be surprised how little side-to-side movement is really involved.

Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice something else about the bump. For all the talk about moving toward the target, you’ll notice that the bump actually requires a more rotary motion; you need to move your hip back and across the jamb to get to a good finish position. In his comment Brian made mention of “opening” the hip; this is the move to which he is referring.

There’s one last thing worth noting about the bump. You’ll hear many teachers say that the downswing is started by dropping the shoulder. (You may remember that I wrote a post several weeks ago disagreeing with a Golf Digest article about this.) A proper bump prevents this from happening, as it doesn’t allow for much side-to-side movement during the downswing. In order for you to purposely drop your shoulder, your hips would need to slide toward the target more than the bump allows. (Just to be clear, the shoulder does drop slightly when the downswing starts, but this is a side-effect of a proper downswing move, not the cause.)

The bump is one of those images that everybody has heard of, but most don’t really know what it teaches. It teaches neither a slide toward the target nor a shoulder drop, but it does teach a much less active lower body than is popular today. The hips turn, but they don’t spin. In fact, if you do the bump properly, your hips will turn about 45 degrees past their position at setup. When I do this move in jeans, the jamb contacts my hip about halfway between the outer seam and the zipper. (And for reference, your shoulders will be almost in their setup position, with one shoulder slightly lower than the other. Your lead shoulder will NOT touch the jamb.)

Your position once bumped

If you find the bump to be a useful image for you, by all means use it. Just make sure you do it right.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Hip Action Matters

(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.)

Brian left a comment on the last post of Series 1 that included a HUGE load of questions. (I don’t mind, as it gives me lots of new ideas for posts!) I had intended to talk about hip action today, but his questions made me realize that I should probably provide a little more background info before jumping into detail.

One question he asked was “What should be the first action to trigger the downswing?” That seems a good place to start.

Technically speaking, the swing always starts from the ground up. If you were to stand on a lazy Susan and try to swing your club, you’d find it nearly impossible to strike the ball. Any attempt to swing the club would cause your feet to spin in the opposite direction, because you need friction between your feet and the ground in order to make a swing.

However, none of your muscles work in isolation in a golf swing. You use your entire body to make a swing, so all the muscles are working at once as you move. But since the contact between your feet and the ground serves as an anchor point, and since you can’t make a swing without that contact, you could argue (as many teachers do) that the feet start the downswing.

Having acknowledged that, there really isn’t a specific move that begins the downswing. The “move down” is a complex combination of muscles all over your body acting in unison. When we talk about “starting the downswing,” what we’re referring to is the specific way that a given player feels that muscle activity. And for that given player, this overall movement is predominantly felt in a certain “part” of his or her body. This “part” can be different for different players. Sometimes, this “part” even changes from day-to-day for our hypothetical player; if you’ve ever heard a pro discuss his or her search for a “swing thought” that allows he or she to overcome a problem he or she is having, this is what they’re talking about.

As I told Brian in my reply, if everybody felt a golf swing in the same way, then we could all become expert golfers using a single golf instructional manual about the length of a child's picture book. Instead, we have hundreds of teachers, each with their own teaching method, and each teacher’s method is perfectly valid because there are so many different ways to feel a golf swing.

Now, because the hips are literally in the middle of this full body movement, the action of the hips almost always figures into this “feel” somehow. That has led to some interesting swing methods, like the “stack and tilt” (formerly used by Aaron Baddeley and Mike Weir), “Natural Golf” (a la Canadian legend Moe Norman) and the “Golf Machine” (used by Morgan Pressel). And it’s also led to the creation of some now-famous teaching images.

One of the most popular of these images is the “bump,” which Brian mentioned in his comments. I’ll discuss the rationale behind that image in the next post.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Further Thoughts about Leg Action, Part 2

(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.)

Now, where did we leave off yesterday? Oh yes…

The back knee MUST remain flexed throughout the swing. As I said, even when you pull with the front leg, your upper body can still move forward enough to throw you off-balance. Because you set up with your spine tilted toward the ball, the back hip needs to rotate forward AND DOWN as your front leg pulls you through the shot. If you straighten your back knee on the downswing, you push the back hip upward instead, which throws your upper body toward the target and prevents you from getting that nice balanced finish everybody likes to have.

Yes, I know what you’re going to say… Gary Player used to advise students to “step through the shot,” which meant the upper body was moving forward so much that the back foot had to step in front of the pulling foot to keep you from taking a faceplant into the ground. Gary used to do it himself on occasion, and he was a pretty decent golfer, wasn’t he?

But the key words here are on occasion. This step-through isn’t the desired move so much as it’s the desired error. The most common alternative is a reverse-C, which causes most weekend golfers to hit a big slice. (It doesn’t help the old back much, either!) There have been a few good players who “did the C”―Johnny Miller being one of the most notable―but most of them didn’t enjoy long careers.

Here’s the difference, and it’s all about knee flex: The reverse-C causes the hips to slide too far forward, while the step-through causes the upper body to move too far forward. That’s because the back knee collapses in the reverse-C, while it straightens in the step-through. See the pattern?

When

In the proper move, the back knee doesn’t straighten much and it certainly doesn’t collapse; it feels more as if it is swiveling. It swings toward the ball as the club approaches the ball (which means your body weight moves from being centered over your back foot to being on the inside edge of it―think of a rolling motion), and then the back knee turns toward the target as the club moves to the followthrough position and the back foot pivots up onto its toes. Now you’re in the classic finish position, with your weight balanced on your front foot.

The movement of the back leg and knee is a reaction to the movement of the hips. It’s Principle 7 at work; the back leg is moving around because the hips pull it around, and the back foot rolls and pivots because that’s the way the hips are turning.

We’ll look at hip action more closely in the next post.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Further Thoughts about Leg Action, Part 1

(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.)

Welcome back for the second season of Project Brian!

Having spent a few days working with the first posts in the Project Brian series, you should have learned a few things just by thinking about what you were doing. Today we’ll focus on those things as they relate to the action of the legs. I’m also experimenting with Brian’s suggestion: Your “front” leg is the one closest to your target, and your “back” leg is the one that’s farthest away. To help you get oriented, think about your “handedness”; for a righthander, your right leg is your back leg, and for a lefthander, your left leg is your back leg.

Many of you aren’t bending your knees enough. I’m sure a lot of you found that your legs were too straight, which interfered with a proper hip turn. You don’t need to do deep knee bends to have good leg action, but you need enough bend to get (and keep!) some flex in the knees throughout the swing.

The front leg pulls you through the swing. However, the wider your stance, the more you might feel the back leg pushing. This is logical, if you think about it for a moment. If your stance is wider, the back leg has to work harder to keep your body stable during the swing. But if you start to focus on pushing with the back leg, you’ll probably start sliding your hips forward rather than rotating them.

The back knee MUST remain flexed throughout the swing. Even when you pull with the front leg, you can find your upper body moving forward enough to throw you off-balance. This is because you're straightening your back leg as you swing. See, your setup position tilts your spine toward the ball, causing the back hip to rotate forward AND DOWN as your front leg pulls you through the shot. If you straighten that back knee on the downswing, you push the back hip upward, which throws your upper body toward the target and prevents you from getting that nice balanced finish everybody likes to have.

This is an important concept that isn’t explained very often. I’ll go into more detail in the next post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Limerick Summary: Viking Classic

Tournament cancelled due to unplayable conditions

Unfortunately for the residents of Madison MI―and the PGA Tour players still struggling to make the top 125―old Mama Nature declared a bye week. After receiving around 20 inches of rain in as many days, the Annandale Golf Club was declared unplayable and the Viking Classic, cancelled. Al Osteen, the man in charge of preparing the course, said Saturday that it would be Thursday before any golf could be played... and that was if the weather cooperated. (The course had received nearly 2 more inches of rain Friday night.)

Therefore, Saturday morning, Slugger White and his PGA Tour crew decided (rightfully so) to cancel the tournament. For those of you who didn't see any footage of the waterlogged course on Saturday, it reminded me more of a rice paddy than a golf course... and the Annandale team worked their butts off to get it looking that good. Kudos to them for all their hard work...

But when Mama Nature sets herself against you, you just have to "go with the flow."
The birdie of choice was a ducky
As a flood turned the golf course all mucky.
Even if the guys waded,
They couldn’t have played it;
Guess the bubble boys just got unlucky.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Who Beat Robert Allenby?

The books will show that Anthony Kim beat Robert Allenby in the semifinals of the World Match Play Championship on Saturday. Everybody was anxious to see what would happen on their next meeting... and they saw a pretty sound thumping, a 5 & 3 victory, after the 5 & 4 pounding at the Presidents Cup a month ago.

But I can't help wondering if Allenby didn't beat himself.

ESPN.com has an interesting post about the round here. Of course, the controversy over Allenby's comments after the Presidents Cup is common knowledge, as is the talk about everything being settled between them. I'm not going to get into that, because only they know if they really got things straightened out... but ESPN mentioned something I found interesting. It might help you in your next match.

The ESPN post specifically mentions Allenby being irritated by Kim not giving him some short putts. "I was definitely surprised at not being given a few putts out there. I gave him a couple of four-footers. Maybe I'll do the same to him this afternoon." When questioned, Kim said, "I don't think I made him putt any short putts, maybe a two-and-a-half footer. But it had a lot of break. It's match play."

The post also says the two hardly spoke to each other during their rematch.

Again, I didn't see the entire match, so I don't know for sure what happened. But I do know this: In match play, every player has to expect to make every putt. It may be considered a courtesy to concede short ones, but concessions certainly aren't required.

What interests me is why a strong competitor like Robert Allenby would concede four-foot putts. That sounds like someone with a guilty conscience trying to make a peace offering. (Yeah, I know some might also say that Kim had it in for Allenby and was deliberately trying to take him off his game. That may be so... but it just makes the conceded four-footers even more conspicuous, don't you think? Why give those kind of putts to someone who isn't even giving you the short ones?)

Here's my point: Golf is just a game, and you won't play well if you let other problems interfere. Golf can be an escape, but it's not a panacea. Allenby's comments at the Presidents Cup were inappropriate, although I'm willing to cut him some slack because he's had a tough year (especially with his mom's death) and frustration sometimes causes you to say and do stupid things you wouldn't normally do. But did he concede those long putts to "make a peace offering" because he feels guilty... and did he expect Kim to concede putts in return to show that he accepted the gesture?

That's no way to play golf. But we all have a tendency to do that sort of thing, don't we?

Don't take golf personally, and don't make it personal. It's a game, which means somebody wins and somebody loses... and that's all. Don't make it into anything more.

Allenby may have given this one away simply because he couldn't separate game and ego... and it'll just make his next match against Kim that much harder. Make sure you don't make the same mistake.