Friday, December 3, 2010

Jimmy Ballard on Connection

Last night on Golf Channel's 12 Nights at the Academy series they had Rocco Mediate and his teacher Jimmy Ballard. It was a fun show -- how could it not be when Rocco's involved? -- but many of you may have felt like you were watching something that was both incredibly self-evident and yet incredibly odd.

Welcome to the world of Jimmy Ballard.

When his book How to Perfect Your Golf Swing first came out back in the late 70s, Ballard was considered a radical. His whole concept of "connection" and right-side power was not accepted by very many in the golf community. Now, of course, in many ways he's actually considered pretty mainstream. Such is the constantly-changing world of golf instruction.

Anyway, if you saw the show you may have recognized some of the things I've covered in this blog, although Ballard covered them somewhat differently. His contention that the elbows should point down toward the ground all the way through the swing isn't really different from Carl Rabito's backswing demonstration using the Perfect Connextion device... or even my own article about "chicken wings" in your followthrough. (The difference between Ballard's contention that the elbow points down and my explanation of the elbow pointing behind you is simply reference points; Ballard is "drawing a line" from the shoulder to the elbow, while I was working from the wrist to the elbow. I stated that in the post.)

The reason Ballard's teachings may seem both self-evident and odd at the same time is simply because Ballard doesn't treat a golf swing as being different from any other athletic hitting motion.
  • Would you try to push a baseball bat or a tennis racket as far away from you as possible in order to get a bigger arc? Of course not! If you wanted more power, you'd try to get into the strongest position you could, not the most awkward.
  • Would you lean backward, away from the ball, to hit the ball hard with either one? Of course not! You'd move toward the ball.
  • Would you flap your elbows out sideways? Certainly not with the tennis racket; you'd keep your elbow pointed at the ground. And while you might set up to hit a baseball with your bent elbow out to the side, you'd probably pull it back down toward the ground during your swing.
Ballard applies the same logic to the golf swing. He keeps your arms and chest "connected" to create the strongest position; he keeps your spine vertical throughout the swing, so you can move into the ball; and he keeps your elbows pointed toward the ground throughout the swing, because that's how you deliver the most force with a sideways hit.

The show was possibly the best presentation of Ballard's teachings I've ever seen, and that was in no small part due to Rocco. His demonstrations were some of the clearest I've seen. (And for those of you who paid attention, you noticed that Rocco was also using the patented Stricker deadhanded swing with his iron. Have you realized yet that most of the good iron players use that technique?)

Besides the simplicity of the swing, Rocco also illustrated one of the big reasons I think Ballard deserves some attention. As bad as Rocco's back pain has been, the fact that Ballard's approach to the swing doesn't cause him pain is no small thing.

There are some Jimmy Ballard videos at YouTube. I had already bookmarked one on his basic teaching about connection; now's as good a time to post it as any. It's short:



If you keep your left arm in the "connected" position Ballard talks about, you'll eliminate problems like "chicken wings" and also -- if you're a chronic slicer -- you'll find it easier to draw the ball. I know some players -- Vijay's notorious for it -- place something like a glove between their chest and forearm to make them maintain connection, but that doesn't really attack the problem.

If you can't stay connected during your swing, you're getting in the wrong position during your swing. That means you are doing one of two things (probably both):
  1. You're leaning backward, which tilts your shoulders away from the target
  2. You stop turning your shoulders at impact
Let me give you a simple drill that you can do inside this winter to help you learn what connection feels like. When I taught you how to do a one-piece takeaway, I taught you how to create an "instant club" for practice. Get in front of a mirror, then take your setup and try to swing your "club" halfway back and then halfway through your finish... but keep your spine vertical the whole time (so your shoulders don't tilt) and turn your shoulders as close to 90 degrees both ways as you can. Watch yourself in the mirror so you can be sure your spine is straight and your shoulders turn.

Your upper body and hips may move a bit more than usual (you're probably not used to this motion, after all), but it won't be a huge motion. Ballard said the hips move about six inches, but I bet you won't move that much after you get used to it. It feels like a bigger motion than it actually is.

When you do this, you should find it very easy to keep your elbows pointed down toward the ground. After you get used to doing it with your "instant club," you can try using a regular club if you get a nice day. Just go out in the backyard and swing the club, trying to duplicate the feel you had in front of the mirror. I bet you're going to be surprised just how natural it feels.

I also hope you're beginning to realize just how important it is to start turning your shoulders early in your swing and then keep turning them until you reach your finish position. That really does eliminate a lot of problems automatically.

So that's Jimmy Ballard's basic concept of connection. I'll come back to it in a later post since it's a helpful way to think about your swing. Hopefully someone will post bits from last night's program on YouTube for reference... or maybe Golf Channel will post it on their site.

11 comments:

  1. That was a great episode. I'm a big fan of Rocco and now of Jimmy Ballard. Like you, they kept their explanations very simple and easy to understand.

    I liked how they related the golf swing to other activities we do naturally, thus reemphasizing the point you have been trying to drill into my head.

    I had seen the above video of Ballard before and tried to use his "elbow facing the ground move", but had forgotten about it. I'll try it in practice tomorrow.

    I was swinging indoors today and keeping the left elbow "tucked" seemed to smooth out my swing a little bit. I'll be interested to see how it works out in practice.

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  2. Dex, there's a tie-in between this video and "the Rocco Show" that can help you practice this even when you can't get outside.

    Remember in the show when Ballard talked about "backhanding" the target? If you look at the video above, you'll see he makes the same move.

    Here's a variation of that move that you can use as a drill to help you keep both the connection concept and your shoulder turn -- dare I say it? -- "connected":

    Simply take your setup position and put your left arm (right arm for you lefties) in that connected position that Ballard shows in the video above. (One hand is fine.) Then imagine there's a wall behind you. What I want you to do is turn your shoulders 90° and touch the wall with the palm of your hand, then backhand the other side of the wall with your finish.

    This drill not only teaches you a full shoulder turn with connection, but also it teaches you how to unwind your hips properly without tilting your spine. That "backhand your target" thought does a great job of keeping you in a good position all the way through your swing.

    And yes, "connection" is the single most important concept in the Ballard system.

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  3. Still haven't watched the Rocco / Ballard episode yet, but I've seen the commercial for the Sean Foley episode tonight at 7. Looks like he put on the full Golf Nerd outfit for the show - but I'm wondering if there is actually any glass in those frames. :-)

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  4. BTW, did you hear what TGC said about Lexi? Apparently she's petitioning the LPGA for 12 sponsor exemptions -- not membership -- and Whan said he was going to look over the 25-page petition Sunday night.

    Hmmm... that's not much different from my 10-exemption suggestion a couple of weeks ago...

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  5. Yeah - I knew about the upcoming peition. Last week, the story was that they were suing the tour. I figured it was the usual bad media spin, and that turned out to be right. Called a friend who is with Blue Giraffe and he gave me the correct story. He couldn't say what they were going to do in the petition until after Tuesday - but it wasn't a law suit.

    Personally, I think your suggestion was better. Make them meet a goal of money or high enough finishes to get a few more starts, and so on. Takes the pressure off the tour and puts it on the shoulders of the player.

    Did you watch Foley tonight ? Is he that short or is Rymer a giant ? The look on Rymer's face was classic. He looked like he was thinking "what the heck is this guy talking about ?" He sure has Tiger a lot more centered with his swing. Good to see.

    Ok - Ballard and Mediate. Rocco said that Ballard's swing really saved his back. Natalie Gulbis had to pull out of the Tour Championship with her back problems again.

    I'm wondering if, she was willing, Ballard's swing would work for her. Rocco isn't very long, but he has a lot more upper body strength than Gulbis. naturally. Could she get enough length out of Ballard's swing to compete on the LPGA ?

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  6. I understand Charlie's predicament. I was scratching my head on some of it and going, "Hmmm... no wonder Tiger says it's taking him time to understand what Sean wants." I don't really question what he was teaching, but some of his descriptions reminded me of Brandel's "initiate your core" remark.

    In Sanskrit. ;-)

    About Foley and Rymer... you're right on both counts! Rymer is 6'4" and Foley is... noticeably shorter.

    Let's compare Rocco and Stricker. Rocco is 6'1" and Stricker is 6'0" and they're both 190 lbs (according to PGATOUR.com), so they're about the same size. Rocco averages 278 yards, Stricker averages 283. I don't think the difference is necessarily their swings, because Rocco's distance has varied randomly from between 277 and 287 over the last few years. Besides, Stricker just looks fitter than Rocco, don't you think? Neither matches the Tour average of 287 yards, but they're close.

    By comparison, Natalie drives it about 240 (right there with Shin and Creamer), which I would guess is less than the LPGA average. There's no Tour average given at the site, but it's probably around 247-248, based on the Driving Distance chart. I would think she could still get that much from the Ballard swing, since she's 5'9" tall. She'd get a decent arc and, without back pain, she might get more speed from her swing.

    But at least she'd get to play. Even if she lost a few yards, she'd still score better than she does now.

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  7. Seems like Foley's biggest asset is his vision, not his communication skills. He knew what needed to be done to get Tiger a golf swing after the years with Haney.

    I wasn't trying to compare Rocco to other guys. I was trying to figure out if the swing would transfer well to women who don't have the upper body strength of the men. Right now, her swing depends on a lot of lag, that Rocco doesn't use, and that really violent jerk down and through the ball. For all her height and extremely long...shapely...yumm....errr...where was I ?....oh yeah...those long limbs, she doesn't generate a whole lot of clubhead speed.

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  8. You asked if I thought Natalie could get enough distance from the Ballard swing to compete, right?

    The reason I compared Rocco and Steve was to see if I could find a similar comparison for Natalie on the LPGA. Rocco compares favorably (distance-wise) to the men's #4 in the world, even though they use different swings. Rocco keeps up with Steve pretty well.

    Natalie currently compares to the ladies' #1, who uses a different swing but is several inches shorter. The Ballard swing is closer to Jiyai's swing than Natalie's. So I figure Natalie would be able to hit it at least as far as she does now if she changed to the Ballard swing. Make sense?

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  9. not really - and I doubt she'd even consider calling Ballard since the first thing she told Butch Harmon was that she didn't want to change that goofy perpendicular shaft move at the top, where the club points almost straight out over her head instead of down the line.

    She makes her money off the course anyway. Seems like she uses golf more to keep her name in public view more than to make money and win championships.

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  10. Well, you can't really blame her. More people ruin their games by trying to change their swings than fix them. And with that funky dip move of hers, any swing change is going to mean a major rebuild.

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  11. If my back were as fragile as hers has been year in and year out - I'd have to think that a rebuild would be worth it. Butch has her halfway there, but the dip just doesn't go away.

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