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Friday, April 30, 2010

Fixing Path Problems, Part 2

Part of the Route 67 series

So now we understand why we need to fix our path problems first. The question remains... just how do we do that?

There are two path problems you can have: You swing inside-to-outside (a push), or you swing outside-to-inside (a pull). Here are the most common ways they turn up in a swing.

Pushes
I started this series with a post about getting stuck on the downswing. Let's look a bit more closely at how it messes up your swing path; it's really pretty simple. Here's the deadly chain of events:

Your legs move faster than upper body. As your hips turn toward the target, your weight moves off your back foot onto your front foot... but your upper body stays back, more over your back foot. This makes you lean backward, away from the target; your spine leans and your shoulders tilt. And when your tilted shoulders rotate around your tilted spine, your arms swing from inside-to-outside. (In addition, if you lean back far enough, you "reverse pivot" -- you fall back on your back foot when you swing, because your upper body never "caught up" with your lower body.)

Even if you don't twist your forearms, the clubface will be open when it hits the ball, so your push will likely become a push-slice (aka "banana ball").

Pulls
This one's a bit tricky, because pulls sometimes cause you to "step through" your swing -- a move often recommended by Gary Player. I don't want you to confuse the two; when Gary steps through, he doesn't make the move I've about to describe. Gary doesn't pull the ball.

Here's the flawed move: The upper body moves faster than the upper body, but it can still be caused by the legs. At the top of the backswing, everything generally looks pretty good. Now it's certainly possible that you can jerk your shoulders around while your lower body doesn't move; if this happens, you will almost certainly pull your shot.

BUT there's usually an extra move with this problem -- namely, the back knee straightens as the shoulders start around. This forces the upper body to tilt forward, causing the spine to lean and the shoulders to tilt... it's the same story as the push, but the spine leans toward the target rather than away, so your arms swing from outside-to-inside.

I don't know if it's generally true, but I've heard that runners often have stiff lower bodies, which contributes to this problem. I do know that I've been a runner since high school (it's my preferred exercise) and I've had a lot of trouble with this problem, so it has been true for me. It's something to consider. (I haven't stopped running because of it; it's just something I know to check if I start pulling shots.) I've hit some incredibly long pull-hooks because of it... most of them lost out-of-bounds.

A Simple Fix Worth Trying
Obviously, these problems can be a major hassle to fix. I'm going to suggest a single simple fix that can help both of these problems. For some of you, this may cut into your distance; but with all the technology available at golf stores, it should be a simple matter to test it on an "electronic range" that reads clubhead speed. In my case, it doesn't seem to hurt... plus, it helps my balance. If nothing else, you'll find it's a good way to get control of things in the midst of a round going bad.

Here's the fix: Try to feel as if you're starting your arms and legs together. You've probably had it drummed into your head that your legs have to start the downswing, and this is entirely true. However -- and this isn't stressed very often -- unless you do something that absolutely feels as weird as it looks, it's physiologically impossible NOT to start your downswing with your legs. It's all about friction between your feet and the ground (that's why golf shoes have cleats), inertia, and Newton's Third Law of Motion ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction"). Trust me: If the feet don't start it, you won't move. Some people just try too hard to consciously start the legs first, and they get screwed up.

"Starting everything together" is not a violent jerky move; it should feel pretty smooth. In fact, it may actually slow your swing down slightly. When I do it, I can still feel my lower body moving just slightly ahead of my upper body; what I don't feel is my hips pushing forward or my upper body leaning forward. I feel like my hips and upper body stay in a vertical line above each other all the way through the swing.

What this move does is keep the legs from getting too far ahead of or too far behind the arms. You can't lean backwards and turn your shoulders at the same time, so you're less likely to push; and it's hard to straighten that back leg when you have to turn your hips in time with your shoulders, so you're less likely to pull. Basically, it eliminates the extremes in your timing.

Now you've got some knowledge to help you troubleshoot your swing. Look at your shot patterns (from yesterday's post) and use today's explanations to help you get your clubhead path under control. And remember that it doesn't have to be perfect, just consistent and predictable.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fixing Path Problems, Part 1

Part of the Route 67 series

Yesterday we broke down your swing into 9 possible ball flights which were a combination of your swing path and your club face position, the former being controlled by your body and the latter by your wrists. Today I want you to understand what kind of effect this has on your accuracy; tomorrow we'll look at how to fix it.

If you've taken even a cursory look at my lists of basic principles for the various shots in the game (if not, please take a moment to check out the posts in the "Basic Principles of the Game" category), then you know that your club face position is controlled by your wrists and forearms. If you're not squaring up the club face, then you're rotating your forearms. DON'T DO THAT! Once you stop, you'll square the club face up much more consistently.

However, as I said yesterday, it does no good to work on your club face position if your club path is off. Why? Because the big muscles are going to override the little muscles. Here's one of those ironies that plague our game: The club face position has a much bigger effect on where the ball goes than the club path does, but you have to fix the club path first or you'll never get that club face square on a consistent basis. Today's post will explain why.

If you're a Dave Pelz fan (and who isn't?), you know that Dave does all kinds of scientific studies on putting and the short game. He made a discovery about putting that I found very interesting: The face angle of your putter has five times the effect on direction than your stroke path does. (That information is on page 85 of Dave Pelz's Putting Bible, for those of you interested in checking it out yourself. Dave's actual figures are 83% vs. 17%, which is about 5-to-1.) Let me put that in somewhat simpler terms.

Let's say you're facing a 10-foot putt (120 inches). You make a putting stroke that travels on a line that's 6 degrees from inside-to-outside. According to Dave's figures, if you hit the ball with a square face, the ball will travel toward the hole on a line only 1 degree off. It will be 2.1 inches offline when it reaches the hole. (That's simple trigonometry; here's an online calculator if you want to check it yourself.)
A small miss

However, if you manage to get the stroke itself straight toward the hole BUT the club face is NOT square (it's 6 degrees off), the ball will be offline by 5 degrees. At the hole, you'll be 10.5 inches offline.
A small miss

The first putt could possibly die into the hole, even though your stroke was offline and you're several feet away because the hole is 4.25 inches wide, or 2.125 inches from the center. That second putt... it ain't going in, even if you're only three feet away. (You'll be 3.1 inches offline then.) The face angle made a bigger difference than the stroke path. Therefore, all of you putters out there struggling to get your stroke perfectly online... stop worrying so much about it! Make sure your club face is square when it strikes the ball; as long as your stroke path is pretty close to straight, you'll probably be ok.

Now let's take that information and apply it to the full swing. It's really interesting!

Let's hit a 250-yard drive with our club face square but we're coming at the ball from 6 degrees inside-to-outside. Do you know how much offline your shot will be? A mere 4.4 yards! But suppose your swing path is online but your club face is pointing 6 degrees to the right? A whopping 21.9 yards! That would miss a lot of fairways.

But wait! Unlike the ball on the putting green, this ball is going to spin sideways in the air... which means the second shot is going to go even farther to the right. This would be the #6 ball flight pattern in yesterday's charts -- that one would be considered a desirable option by most pros! But it really is desirable if you hit that first shot... because it's going to spin back toward the target line!

So you can see that the face angle has a bigger effect on your accuracy than your swing path. So why not fix the face angle first? Because your wrists and arms, which control the face angle, are connected to your shoulders. If your shoulders get tilted, your wrists and arms get tilted... and there goes your face angle. And if your shoulders tilt differently with each swing... well, you can see where that's going to lead. It's a game you can't win.

So tomorrow I'll show you how to start getting a handle on your swing path. It's really much simpler than it seems.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Understanding Your Shot Shape

Part of the Route 67 series

(12/15/2010 UPDATE: Some of the principles I talked about in this article have had to be "tweaked" because of new scientific info. After you read this post, click on this link to learn about the updated "New Ball Flight Laws.")

Another delay. When I started on the power source articles, I realized that I was going to have to repeat a large amount of material if I didn't go ahead and cover it first... so I'm going to cover it first. ;-) We'll get to the power sources soon, I promise.

However, this information is useful even without knowing about your swing's power source. Think of this as a brief troubleshooting guide.

Today's info is probably nothing new for any of you who have taken lessons. These 2 diagrams show the 9 possible shot shapes that you, as a rightie or a leftie, can make. The first chart is for the righties:

The 9 Rightie Shot Shapes

The drawing is pretty straightforward. The little player is lined up with an absolutely humongous ball (he must have seen the Munsters clip from Sunday), and that barely-visible dotted line is an aim line toward the target. The lines sprouting from the ball show all the possible ball flights. Again, I'm pointing out the obvious by saying that the shots are grouped by each of the 3 shot paths the ball can take, and each path can have 3 shot shapes.

The other chart is for the lefties, and contains the same info:

The 9 Leftie Shot Shapes

Of course, the shapes are the same, just called by different names since one player's hook is another player's slice.

Now, just to be sure we're all on the same page, let me define a couple of the terms I just used:
  • The shot path is determined by (take your choice, they all mean the same thing) your swing plane, the club head's swing path, or the path your arms take when you hit the ball.
  • The shot shape is determined by the direction your club face is pointed relative to that path when it hits the ball.
Here are a few examples, using the numbers on the charts so I can use one example to describe it and both of you (righties and lefties) can follow it:
  • If your swing path is directly toward the target and your club face is pointing left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #4.
  • If your swing path is headed left of the target when you hit the ball and the club face is pointed left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #1.
  • If your swing path is headed right of the target when you hit the ball and the club face is pointed left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #7.
Some path/shape combinations are better than others. Shapes #1 and #9 could be lost or out-of-bounds, while #3 and #7 may end up in the middle of the fairway just like #5.

Likewise, some different path/shape combinations can give you the same results IF you aimed yourself to take advantage of them. As one example, if I aimed my target line down the right side of the fairway and hit the #4 shot shape, I will probably get the same results as if I aimed straight down the center and hit the #7 shape.

Knowing these shot shapes can help you figure out what you're doing during your swing. For example, a rightie who hits that #9 shape is probably pushing their hips too far forward during the swing. I would know that because the ball started out to the right; if I just had the face of the club pointed right, the ball would probably go straight ahead and then turn to the right, which is the #6 shape. If I'm hitting the ball on the #9 path, am I also pointing the club face to the right? Probably... but the swing that starts the path to the right may also be causing the face to open. I'd want to fix the path first, then see if the ball still curves to the right.

Here's the first principle of troubleshooting your swing: Fix the path first, then the shape. Path problems usually mean your body is leaning one way or the other; if your body gets in the wrong position, you may be doing other things correctly but they still send the ball in the wrong direction. Working on the shape first is like trying to level some table legs when the floor isn't flat; until you fix the floor, you run the risk of just ruining the table.

Path problems caused by "throwing the club from the top" are often a combination of an improperly-timed swoosh (we've already talked about that) combined with a power source timing problem. We'll get to that soon; nevertheless, you need to fix the path first.

In an ideal world, that #5 shot would be your normal shot and you'd learn to make other shots from there. It generally doesn't work that way! What I am about to say would be considered heresy by most teachers, but I'm not worried about you mastering some kind of perfect shot. Since you're a weekend player, what you need is a consistent shot that lets you make a decent score. So here's my advice: I'm going to give you enough info that may let you get pretty close to that #5 shot... but if you can hit any of the shots from #3 through #7 consistently, you'll be able to score pretty well. Here's what you want:
  • With the #5 shot, obviously you're golden. You can learn to adjust for just about any shot you need.
  • With the #4 or #6 shots, you just aim a little left or right of target as needed and let the ball curve in. When the pros talk about "eliminating one side of the fairway," these are generally the shots they're talking about, so these are also desirable.
  • You might think it's crazy to settle for a #3 or #7 shot, especially when one of them will be a pull-slice; most teachers act like that's the kiss of death. But it's a matter of degree with these shots. If your path is just a little bit off, so you just have a slight pull or push, and you learn to get that club face pointed right at the target when it contacts the ball, you can literally aim right at the target and have it fade or draw right where you're aiming. This is almost as good a shot as #4 or #6! It will be a rare day when you can't figure out how to score using it. Bruce Lietzke, who has 13 PGA Tour wins, 7 Champions Tour wins (one major, the 2003 U.S. Senior Open), and a Shark Shootout victory made his living with a little pull-fade... and he is notorious for not practicing. (And here is a swing analysis of Lietzke's swing by Jim McLean. There's a short commercial at the beginning, but this is a 17-minute analysis... and the coolest thing is that, when the camera moves behind him, you can actually see the divots going left!)
These charts will give you a leg up on tracking down problems in your swing. Tomorrow we'll look at what kind of moves cause these shots.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Historical Swoosh

Part of the Route 67 series

This article has been edited slightly because I realized my statement under the picture didn't make a lot of sense. Sorry.

One last post about the swoosh before we move on; this one is a quick look at how the swoosh shows up in modern teaching. After some debate, I've decided to focus on two player/teachers -- Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones -- because their references to the move are pretty typical. The page references are for Hogan's book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, and for Bobby Jones on Golf, a collection of writings by Jones himself.

But first I'd like to make a quick reference to another series of posts I did (listed on the Some Useful Posts Series page) about Jim McLean's "V-Gap" technique. In that series I pointed out that the V-gap is just a modern version of what used to be called a "late cock," where the club shaft is still basically parallel to the ground when the hands are at the waist-high position on the backswing. Hogan shows this same position on page 72 of his book. The Jones book includes a drawing of him in a similar "late cock" position on page 40.

McLean says that players using the V-gap hit the ball farther, and this is related to the swoosh move. By delaying the wrist cock, the clubhead develops more momentum at the change of direction, which makes it easier to delay that uncocking move until you're ready to swoosh.

That swooshing move is illustrated on pages 82-83, with the caption, "The training exercise is a half-swing back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth, the body swings the arms like the pendulum of a clock. The elbows remain tightly glued to the side." Hogan's exercise is a bit more mechanicial than mine, what with the elbows held tight against the side, but it has the advantage of forcing you to move your wrists properly for the swoosh. This isn't from the book, but it's a short sequence of Hogan doing the swoosh:

Hogan in swoosh position

Notice that his wrists are still cocked when his arms drop below the 9:00 position, and his wrists straighten as he approaches the ball position.

On page 93 Hogan makes a big deal about NOT starting the downswing with the hands. (Remember, I had you gradually lengthen the swoosh in order to try and avoid this.) After restating this in capital letters about how you shouldn't use any conscious hand action during the swing, he says:
What do the hands do? The answer is that they do nothing active until after the arms have moved on the downswing to a position just above the level of the hips.
A little later (on page 96) he writes:
AFTER YOU HAVE INITIATED THE DOWNSWING WITH THE HIPS, YOU WANT TO THINK OF ONLY ONE THING: HITTING THE BALL. On a full drive, I try to hit the ball hard, sometimes as hard as I can. (The caps are Hogan's.)
My favorite Hogan quote is on page 101, where he talks about his left wrist still being a bit arched and he says, "As far as applying power goes, I wish I had three right hands!" Your right hand (left hand for lefties) can apply as much power as you want, as long as your hands have reached the lower part of your swing (as he said a couple of quotes earlier).

Bobby Jones uses some interesting phrases to describe his own performance of the swoosh. After talking about hip turn and such, he says,
"But equally important is the effect of completing the cocking of the wrists.This is accomplished as the wrists give to the pull of the hips in one direction and of the club head moving in the other. As the downstroke begins, one should have the feeling of leaving the club head at the top" (page 46).
That "feeling of leaving the club head at the top" is a great way to describe what I have called "delaying the release" in my earlier posts. Later on the same page Jones talks about the importance of "An ample cocking of the wrists, and the retention of the greater part of this angle for use in the hitting area," which is the goal of swoosh. (I should point out that drawings of Jones will show his wrists with less wrist cock as he enters the swoosh area. This is because hickory shafts flex more than modern steel ones, so they can't handle as much power. We'll talk about this some in a later post, but for now you should be aware that softer graphite shafts require less wrist cock to develop power... but you also have to swing more slowly to keep your accuracy. Walter Hagen's notoriously wild drives were caused by a fairly modern swing that overpowered his hickory shafts.)

Regardless of how "hard" you try to swoosh, the principles of delaying the uncocking of the wrists until you're in the last part of the swing, close to the ball, is a longstanding teaching. It doesn't matter whether you look at older teachings from the time of hickory shafts or the most modern teachers; and it doesn't matter what swing method you use to hit the ball. Power comes from a swoosh at the bottom of the swing, and it's not so hard to learn. Take your favorite teaching book and look for some of the descriptions I've pointed out in both Jones and Hogan's books; I bet you'll find something very similar.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Zurich Classic

Winner: Jason Bohn

Around the greater world of golf this week: Lorena Ochoa announced her retirement from golf; this week's LPGA tournament will be her last as a regular player. Perhaps it's appropriate that Ken Green made his return to the game at the same time. On the European Tour, Marcus Fraser won the Ballantine's Championship with a wire-to-wire victory -- his first victory in seven years. Mark O'Meara and Nick Price won the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf team tournament on the Champions Tour, breaking O'Meara's four-year winless streak. (Is it still wire-to-wire when you need two playoff holes to seal the deal?) And on the Nationwide Tour, Ewan Porter won the South Georgia Classic. His win was NOT wire-to-wire... the only one this weekend that wasn't!

Back from the dead... a phrase that describes both New Orleans and Jason Bohn's golf career. It's been five years since Bohn last won at the 2005 BC Open. (Which, ironically, no longer exists.) Well, maybe that's not quite fair; Jason's made pretty good money in the meantime, enabling him to keep his Tour card and make a healthy living. Still, it's nice to pick up one of those old trophies from time to time, just to remind the other guys you're still around and not just specter of the past. (Are you noticing the whole undead theme I've got going here?)

Bohn's win was also a wire-to-wire win. A couple of other players without PGA Tour wins put up some spirited competition -- Jeff Overton and Troy Merritt -- but in the end they didn't have a ghost of a chance. Bohn stiffed it on the 18th, leaving mere inches for his birdie, killing their hopes. And if that wasn't scary enough, Jason proceeded to hug Peter Kostis on the 18th green for absolutely no reason that I can think of.

Ok, maybe the whole Anne Rice "Interview with a Vampire" voodoo undead thing seems a bit cliché... but I think Katrina's still too fresh a memory for any kind of drought humor in this week's limerick. Besides, even without making a joke about hockey masks and Crystal Lake, how do you ignore a perfect setup like his last name...?
New Orleans is haunted this midnight;
The vampires can’t sleep ‘cause it’s too bright.
The noise wakes the undead
And spirits are lifted—
The Bohnyard’s a party till daylight!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some People Shouldn't Play Golf

A blast from the past. Herman Munster has taken up golf; so, with his son/caddy Eddie in tow, they've headed out for a leisurely game of golf at the Mockingbird Heights Country Club. I was a huge Munsters fan growing up, and this is one of my favorite clips.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Editorial on Growing Golf

As Vince so charmingly pointed out in yesterday’s comments, I have written a ridiculous number of words for the blog this week… and it looks like today may be pretty long too. So here’s the plan: Tomorrow I’m just going to post a video (some golf humor I think you’ll enjoy), post the Limerick Summary on Monday (if they get the darn thing finished on time!), then get back to the Route 67 series next Tuesday or Wednesday. Today I want to do something I don’t do very often, and that’s write an editorial about something I feel strongly about. (Something that isn’t a swing technique, that is. ;-) Forgive me if it rambles a bit, but these are all related things that jumble together when I think about them.

I’ve been listening to the talk about Brian Davis all week. It’s pretty interesting to me, as it varies from people being excited that we have such a good golf story after so many tumultuous months, to debates over whether we should be making such a big deal of this. For example, Stephanie Wei made a good point with this comment on 4-19-10 (forgive me for not linking to the exact post, but there's no individual link to this):
“No doubt I’m impressed with Davis, but I might be even more impressed with a guy who calls a violation on himself in a heavily-officiated team sport. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant stopping play mid-game to notify the ref he stepped out of bounds? Probably not. But that doesn’t make golf and golfers morally superior to other sports and sportsmen. Just different games with different sets of rules and expectations.”
At the other end of the scale, a TGC poll showed that about 70% of viewers didn’t think Brian deserved any praise – he just did what was expected of him. As Bobby Jones once said (I know, because I heard it several thousand times this week), “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

But I’m afraid we’re missing the big picture here, and that’s what started me thinking about doing an editorial. Three athletes were all in the news this week: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Broncos draft pick Tim Tebow, and of course Brian Davis. I’m not looking at whether the reasons they made news were right or wrong, but WHY these three stories seem to have generated so much emotion.

Roethlisberger got a 6-game suspension that could be reduced to 4 games with “good behavior.” (Six games is half the regular season for you non-NFLers out there, so it could have a huge effect on the way the season plays out.) Tebow was drafted about 75% of the way through the first draft, ahead of some other more-highly rated college quarterbacks, and many of the “talking heads” thought he might go as low as the fourth round, so this was a big surprise to most fans. What do these guys have in common with Davis, you might ask?

I think the answer has to do with integrity – but not the players’ integrity so much as how people in general view integrity.

Some have argued that Roethlisberger’s penalty was a reaction to public outrage, an attempt to punish him because “the law” didn’t – in other words, the suspension is a substitute “sentence.” But I think it’s actually an attempt to convince Roethlisberger that his actions affect others. The argument “But I didn’t hurt anybody but myself” has become an excuse these days for doing really stupid things and not learning from them. Roethlisberger has done some pretty stupid things in the past, and this was the second rape accusation in less than a year. (I have heard that a third had been hushed up, but I haven’t verified that claim.) There’s no way Roethlisberger can miss the point on this one – his actions have CLEARLY affected his team’s chances at the Super Bowl this year. (Again, for you non-NFLers out there, the Steelers have already won the Super Bowl TWICE with Roethlisberger at the helm.) In addition, something like this is a public relations nightmare for the NFL, who’s trying to create a charitable image along the same lines as the PGA’s.

Tebow has become a polarizing force during the NFL Draft because of the emphasis on – you guessed it – his character. While almost everybody really likes the kid, many feel that he’s been “sainted” by the public and the media. As one of the ESPN commentators put it afterward, this is the first time in a long time that a player became a first-round draft primarily on the strength of “intangibles” like character and leadership qualities. (Personally, I don’t think that’s fair – Tebow did win two BCS titles, which indicates some degree of talent – but I understand what they mean. Tebow played in a specialized offensive formation, which some feel won’t transfer well to the NFL.) Tebow was taken ahead of two other college quarterbacks thought by many to be more talented… and both of them were expected to go well ahead of Tebow. (For the record, I was thrilled by that turn of events since the Carolina Panthers managed to get one of those players, Jimmy Clausen, during the second round. That was the Panthers’ first pick in the draft, a pick they never expected to get.)

But Tebow was clearly picked because of his attitude in combination with his skills. When asked why he thought he was drafted, Tebow simply said his college coach wanted him to play a specific style, so he learned it and played it to the best of his ability; and that whatever the Broncos wanted him to do, he would learn and play that to the best of his ability. His work ethic is unquestioned – in other words, he has proven that he is what he says he is – and that’s what the Broncos’ coach was looking for.

So what does all of this have to do with Brian Davis?

Earlier this week I read some poll results that said around 80% of Americans don’t trust the government or the banks. Jones made his statement back when people left their doors unlocked and didn’t worry about it; these days, people not only expect the bank to be robbed, but they expect the bank officials to be the culprits. Integrity is NOT expected by most people these days… but that doesn’t mean they don’t value it anymore.

In a world where the Steelers apparently tried to trade Roethlisberger after the suspension came down and couldn’t get any takers – despite two Super Bowl victories and probably more to come – Tim Tebow became someone that the fans could root for and not feel guilty about it… and so did Brian Davis. And it was bigger than you think.

How do I know? My Yahoo page comes up with a gadget that typically shows 24-36 major news stories from all over the world – sports, science, politics, etc.

Now, the golf world has been buzzing all week over Lorena Ochoa’s retirement. The #1 women’s golfer retires… and it didn’t show up in the gadget. In fact, I haven’t seen anything about it outside the golf community, although a friend told me she heard it mentioned Friday shortly after the press conference.

Tiger announced two more tournament appearances. I think the first announcement showed up briefly in the gadget, but it disappeared just as quickly and it barely caused a ripple in golf news.

Brian’s self-called penalty not only made the gadget, but was there for two solid days! I heard him do at least one phone interview on ESPN2, and it was a topic for several of their talk shows. Bear in mind that this is the first round of NBA playoffs, a major topic on ESPN, and the week leading up to the NFL Draft – which ESPN is carrying! Brian still got discussion time, even in the midst of all this. And of course, it’s been a daily topic on TGC.

It’s 100% true that Brian just did what was expected of him when he called that penalty on himself… but such expectations don’t extend outside the golfing community. Brian Davis drew more attention this week outside the golf world than either of the #1 players on the men’s and women’s tours… and the golf world doesn’t even seem to have noticed that it did.

How can we expect to grow the game when we don’t even understand what it is about our game that interests the world?

I’m certainly not saying we should anoint golfers as the new messiahs of the sports world. Golfers, as Stephanie pointed out in her post, aren’t morally superior to other athletes. (The Tiger fiasco alone should have put that lie to rest.) But the strength of golf’s appeal does lie in its players and the expectations of the sport itself, and other than First Tee, we haven’t really tried to capitalize on either of them. That has to change.

Some of those changes should be matters of organization, and some of presentation.

I think the lesson from First Tee is clear: People will respond to a sport that teaches them to be better people, gives them a skill that can aid them in business, and also gives them some exercise. My goal for my blog is to try and simplify the game so it’s easier to pick up, an issue that I get a little worked up over at times. ;-) But we need to find an easier way to teach the game. Most people can pick up a baseball, basketball, or football and have fun pretty quickly… unlike golf, which is perceived as far too difficult to learn unless you make a huge commitment to it. We need a simpler teaching method, and maybe make 9 holes the standard weekend round so the game can be played more quickly. I think it might even be advantageous to create a standard half-set of clubs – maybe a driver or 3-wood, a 5- or 7-wood, a hybrid, 2 short irons, a sand wedge, and a putter – that is cheaper to buy and lighter to carry, and build local competitions and leagues around these. Fourteen clubs and eighteen holes would still be the official tournament standards; think of these as comparable to 2- or 3-man basketball games vs. college and pro games.

TV needs to become more fan-friendly and show more of the rank-and-file players during broadcasts. These players have fans too, and if they can’t see them, they won’t watch. As digital TV and online “stations” make multiple-stream broadcasts more practical, this is something that should be pursued. I personally like the idea of 18 “channels,” with each one focused on a single hole. Fans could follow their favorite player through their entire round just by flipping to the next channel, stake out a single hole, or “surf” the course as it suited them… much as they can do at an actual tournament. Short video pieces on individual players could be made available on demand from a website or extra channel, so people could learn about individual players at their leisure. Golf is a game that can really benefit from technology, and we need to use it better.

Finally, I think us golfbloggers can do something about this… but it will require some changes from us. See, no matter what the subject, the media in general likes sensationalism. They pick one aspect of a story or a personality and focus on that. It’s catchy, it gets a lot of attention, and it draws viewers. In the end, it’s all about the money… but things get distorted in the process.

We golfbloggers are guilty of it as well. As a couple of prominent examples, Phil is either the patron saint of faithful husbands or FIGJAM, and Tiger is either the savior of the PGA Tour or the evil god of promiscuity. Instead of complex imperfect people, we create cartoon characters that we think will get pageviews.

If we want to change things, we need to stop that.

Look, I’m not saying we have to pretend we like all these guys, or agree with everything they say and do – just that we ought to treat them fairly for our audience. You don’t have to like what Tiger did to Elin and his family, but he didn’t suddenly become the Destroyer of Worlds and his charitable work didn’t suddenly become a sham because of some reprehensible behavior. You can remind yourself that banging 15 consenting women isn’t quite as bad as killing 15 nonconsenting women. Don’t get too upset when he lets a couple of curses slip after he said he wouldn’t do it anymore because, unlike those of us who have rarely had control of anything, Tiger still thinks he can control everything by sheer strength of will. The nature of self-delusion means that he doesn’t know any better yet; at least there is evidence that he’s trying to change. Maybe in some cases that just means he’s starting to do what we normally expect from the other players; nevertheless, it’s a change for him, so give him some credit. You have the ear of more people than you know, so you should take the responsibility seriously.

By the same token, if you think Phil is a windbag and does a lot of things just for show, it’s perfectly ok to say so. As a blogger, you are in a unique position to express your opinions on things, and it’s your right to say what you think. But unless you like people calling you insulting names in public – especially people who only know who you are because they’ve seen your picture on your blog – you ought to stop calling him FIGJAM. Don’t treat rumors about him the same as if they were facts. That’s just common human courtesy, and your blog makes you a public figure, whether you like it or not. You have a responsibility to avoid abusing your platform.

And even if you hate both men’s guts, it wouldn’t hurt to applaud them when they do something good. Maybe they did it for the wrong reasons, but helping people is still helping people. Let’s try to encourage more people to do good when we can.

Does that all sound a little overly-moralistic? Maybe it is. But if we’re willing to say anything to get pageviews without considering how it reflects on our integrity, then maybe Brian’s choice was a bigger deal than we’d like to admit.

The world is reading. What will they read about on your blog?

BTW, I have discovered that Tiger and I have at least one thing in common: Apparently we both like some of Nickelback's music. Shocking perhaps, but true. I didn't know until reading some of the other blogs that this was such a terrible malady; I suppose now I'll have to go to therapy as well. I just think it's a shame that I didn't get the highly-paid endorsements necessary to pay for said therapy. Therefore, all donations will be gladly accepted. ;-)

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 3

Part of the Route 67 series

Today we're going to tack our swoosh onto the end of a full swing, so we can put the hammer down on that little white ball!

The other swing component that gives us control of the swoosh in a full swing is something you've already had a little experience with it. It's feeling the change of direction, which is another part of "feeling the clubhead." By controlling when we feel the change, we control when the swoosh begins.

The actual technique, which you've heard me mention before but never explain in as much detail as I will today, is called "delaying the change of direction" or "delaying the release." Some teachers call it "delaying the wrist cock," but this is technically wrong since we're delaying the wrist uncock.

How do you delay the change of direction?

First let's clear up a possible misconception. Technically, there are TWO different changes of direction in the swing, which I have referred to by different names to avoid confusion. Until now it wasn't important to differentiate between the two; now it is.
  • The first change of direction is when the hands and arms reach the top of the backswing and start coming down, but the momentum of the clubhead keeps going back. (This is what I have been calling "loading the shaft.")
  • The second change of direction is when the momentum of the clubhead stops going in the same direction as the backswing and starts moving in the same direction as the downswing. (This is what I have been calling "feeling the change of direction" or "feeling the clubhead.")
Do you understand the difference? When the hands and arms start down, the clubhead is still going back; the tension loads the shaft, and you feel it as the pressure of the shaft making your wrists cock because your hands and arms have changed direction. Then, when the clubhead momentum is spent and the shaft stops pushing against your wrists, the pressure on your wrists eases off because the clubhead has also changed direction.

Our goal is to delay that feeling of the clubhead changing direction. Why? Because that's when our wrists begin to uncock without our help and the swoosh begins. It's the momentum of the clubhead going back while our hands start down that "holds" the wrist cock. All those gizmos you've seen on TV that are supposed to teach you how to "hold" wrist cock? You don't need them. Wrists stay cocked because of physics, not muscles. Our goal is to move in such a way that the club shaft stays loaded as long as possible, so we can consciously decide when to uncock our wrists.

We do this all the time. If you know how to use a hammer, a flyswatter, or a rolled-up newspaper, you can do this. If you need a specific explanation of how the above items work, just check out this post from the "How to Use a Single-Plane Loop" series. Obviously, we hold a club with two hands rather than one, but the principle is the same. If you look at the fifth and final picture in that post (which shows all the positions from the previous pics at once), you'll see that the hands are all pretty much on a line except for the fourth one -- the one at the change of direction is lower than the others. You get the same effect letting the right elbow (left elbow for a lefty) flex a bit more when your hands start down. You don't have to try and consciously bend the elbow; the loaded shaft will put enough force on your elbow that it will flex on its own unless you tense up your muscles... which generally means you're getting ready to muscle the club at the top, not swoosh it at the bottom.

The best way to learn this is by slowly lengthening your backswing. Start with the aimed swoosh we practiced in the last post, then gradually lengthen the backswing. Let your arms go to 9:00 and make some swings until your cocked wrists kind of "slide" their way down to the 8:00 position and you can perform your aimed swoosh. Then move it up to 9:30 or 10:00, and try again. When you can do it there, move it up to 10:30 or 11:00. Your swoosh may move up a bit higher as your swing gets longer; as long as it doesn't move up past 8:30, you should be ok.

If you have trouble, adjust the speed of your backswing; swinging faster creates a stronger loading effect, but many people find that it hurts! (For an example of this, just watch Nick Price. You'll also note that fast swings tend to be shorter.) However, if you have trouble with uncocking too soon, I'd try slowing down my backswing first. Too much speed during a long backswing can put too much load on the shaft and cause a "springing" effect, where it literally kicks your wrists out of their cocked position. (Now you know why power hitters claim they want a slow backswing.)

If you still have trouble, remember that your hands start down before the clubshaft momentum starts pressing against your wrists -- in other words, you change direction with your hands before your wrists are finished cocking. That's what happens in the flyswatter swing, so making a few "swats" with one may help you understand how this feels. Bear in mind that you'll need more forearm and wrist strength when you use this technique, because the force against your wrists will increase. This may require you to slow your backswing even more at first, until you get used to it.

But whatever you have to do to get the swoosh at the proper position is ok. The primary cause of clubhead speed is the swoosh, so performing it properly is your primary concern; make whatever adjustment to your swing speed is necessary.

Quite frankly, on the backswing your arms may never need to go past the 11:00 position during the backswing. Fred Couples -- in fact, a lot of the longest hitters with slow swings -- don't go any further than that. (That's what some teachers call a "three-quarter backswing.") It's definitely easier to make an accurate swing if it's shorter. Again, as long as the start of your swoosh doesn't move up past 8:30 or 9:00, you should be pretty darn long of the tee.

When you incorporate the swoosh into your full swing, your shot direction may be a little off at first. I suspect most of you will swing slightly inside-to-out, which would result in a push shot. Of course, the rest of you will pull shots slightly. (If you get way off line, your swoosh is happening too early in the downswing.) This is because you're used to making extra moves to make up for the swoosh you didn't have before! Don't worry, we'll fix that as we learn how the power sources work in their respective swings. The fixes are minor timing fixes and they aren't difficult, but you need to understand how your swing works in order to make them.

Finally, each of the power sources we're going to talk about does the exact same thing -- provide swoosh power -- but the swoosh feels a little different, depending on which source you use. The upper body power source feels as if the arms are pushing while the hands straighten; the lower body power source feels as if the legs and hips are pushing while the hands straighten. This distinction will become clearer as we discuss the power sources themselves.

Tomorrow I'll try to tie up some loose ends and put this move in historical perspective -- that is, point out some ways teachers and players have mentioned this move when describing their own swings.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 2

Part of the Route 67 series

(Update: I wrote this post -- and Part 3, tomorrow -- before yesterday's Part 1.5, where Court and I debated some of the differences between the "swoosh" I cover in these articles and the more common "swish" drill recommended by many teachers and pros; it's a really good example of why so many different teachings exist, as you can see that Court is looking for different things in a drill than I am, and I want to make sure he knows I appreciate him taking the time to comment. However, in the process I forgot to make changes to this post, so the references here to "yesterday" and "the last post" actually refer to Part 1 back on Tuesday, not Part 1.5 on Wednesday. Sorry if that causes any confusion.)

Yesterday we talked about the swoosh itself, how to do it, and some of the "golf talk" that gets used to describe what you're doing when you swoosh. If you practiced any with it (yeah, I know my goal here is "minimum practice," but the swoosh will become second nature soon enough) you should be getting familiar enough with the feel of it to know when you do it and when you don't.

Now we need to learn how to "aim" it; this is a basic part of effectively stretching out the backswing. See, when you start to add a backswing, the tendency is to swoosh too early. You've heard teachers talk about "throwing from the top" or "casting the club" (that comes from fishing terminology) or "flipping the hands at the top." All of these are just ways of saying you swooshed at the wrong time.

And how did you do that? I'm sure you know by now. Since you start your swoosh by trying to straighten your wrists, it makes sense that straightening your wrists at the wrong spot in your swing is going to "throw" the clubhead out of its intended... let's call it an "orbit," since the clubhead is circling your body. Straightening your wrists (swooshing) at the wrong time causes the clubhead to move farther away from your body too soon; a properly-swooshed clubhead stays pretty close to your body until your hands are around that 8:00 position we talked about, at which point it has neither the time nor space to "cross the line." (Ok, it's possible you might swing a little out-to-in with this part of the drill, because you rarely turn your shoulders as much with this short swoosh as you do in a full swing. When we get to the full swing in Part 3, that should change.) Are you with me so far?

There are two techniques that help us do that. Since "aiming" is easy to practice at this point, we'll work with it first.

Remember that tee we used yesterday to represent the ball? That's going to be our target.

Warm up first. Just make some swooshes as suggested in yesterday's post. Don't make your swing any longer yet; just focus on getting your wrists fully-cocked when your arms are in that 7:30-8:00 position, then, when you feel the club shaft load and the change of direction, swoosh it. (If you've forgotten what any of these terms mean, re-read the last post.)

Are you warmed up now? Aiming is a simple concept, but it can be a slippery concept to get a hold on at first. That's why we're going to do it now, while we're still working with just the swoosh part of the swing. Here's what I want you to do:

You've been focusing on just getting your wrists straightened out by the time you got the clubhead to the ball; this is how you develop a feel for swooshing. Now, I want you to pick a specific spot for the shaft to point at when your wrists are straight. I'm going to suggest you pick a spot about an inch in front of the tee (or whatever you're using as a ball substitute) as your target. This will serve two purposes;
  • It will keep you from focusing too much on the ball.
  • You are less likely to hit the ball fat if you aim at the front of the ball rather than the ball itself.
For some of you, this is going to be a bit tricky but it will give you better control of your swoosh. Rather than having the club "going off in your hands," as someone once colorfully put it, you'll be choosing where you contact the ball. This will help you make better contact when the ball isn't lying particularly well, and give you a lot of confidence in your ability to strike the ball the way you want.

When we move to a full swing, aiming like this will help us time the swoosh properly. People fling it from the top because they aren't thinking about where they want to unleash their power; all they care about is swinging as hard as possible. Not you, my friends! You are going to be master of your clubs; they will make contact when and where you choose, in the manner of your choice. You will be the ClubMaster! (I'm afraid there are no movie deals to go with this title... but you may nab a few club championships when we're through!)

Spend a little time gaining control of your aim today, and we'll look at how the swoosh works in a full swing tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 1.5

Part of the Route 67 series

Or, Why I Hate The Swish Drill

As you all probably noticed in yesterday's comments, Court and I have a difference of opinion over the usefulness of the swish drill. (BTW Court, I call mine the swoosh drill both to differentiate it from the swish drill and because I spent way too much time in comic books growing up -- when something comes through low and fast, it goes SWOOSH!) So I told him I'd devote a post to explaining why I feel this way.

For those of you unfamiliar with the swish drill: You either hold your driver by the head or get a shaft without a head, then you practice swinging it with one hand until you can hear a swishing noise. This is where you are achieving maximum speed in your swing, and the idea is to get that noise to sound to be loudest just after it passes the ball position.

If you watch any amount of golf, you probably see this drill demonstrated at least once every two or three weeks, with the explanation that it will help increase your clubhead speed. My first objection is very simple: If this drill helps you increase your clubhead speed, why are so many people struggling to get distance?

The reason is very simple: This drill, while very effective for showing that you can develop a lot of clubhead speed during a swing, does NOT teach you how to do so. In fact, it doesn't teach you the basics of how clubhead speed is developed at all, and it encourages bad habits that will adversely affect other aspects of your swing. And I will illustrate all of these in this post.

The most blatant example of why this drill fails to teach how to develop clubhead speed comes from Court himself, and I quote: "If you can't HEAR the swoosh - you don't know when it happens." I thought my first post was quite clear on this point, but apparently it wasn't; either that, or the swish drill is simply so misleading that it's hard to see the falsehood. Let me try to explain it again.

First, what causes the noise in the swish drill? I know you think it's because of the vast amount of speed you developed with that perfect swinging motion. Well... I just went out behind the house and picked up a thin stick about 15 inches long and made a short whipping motion with it; the end of the stick traveled between 18 and 24 inches. It made a very loud swishing noise! In fact, I made that motion a dozen times, stopping between each, and got a dozen noises -- and they all sounded just like the swish in the swish drill. Do you think this short motion will send a golf ball 200+ yards? Of course not!

The swish in the swish drill is caused by wind resistance (also called "drag") against a thin edge. The less drag you have, the easier it is to develop some speed... and, consequently, air noise. (This is basic aerodynamics, BTW.) That's why the twig can get a swish at a relatively low speed. And that's why the swish drill uses the thin edge; the grip is very thin compared to the clubface, and thus makes it easier to get a noise. But, as I pointed out in my comments, noise doesn't move the ball. The noise is no indication that you are getting enough speed to really launch that ball. If it does, the twig is as good as a shaft... and I know that motion was totally insufficient to launch a ball.

Now, let's introduce the clubhead back into the equation. It can't make that noise, can it? Sure it can -- but there's a lot more drag, so the noise is more muted... and harder to "place" after it passes the ball position. The pressure builds up against wide area of the face and pushes against it, rather than zipping around it and making a loud noise. But Court says, "If you can't HEAR the swoosh - you don't know when it happens." So we have no way of knowing if we got that swoosh we're after, do we?

Decades of teaching about "feeling the clubhead" would tend to indicate that the truth of the matter is somewhat different. Feeling the clubhead not only involves drag, but inertia and momentum as well, but let me try to explain, in simple words, how the swoosh feels from the top of the backswing until we reach the finish:
  • Top of backswing: Pressure against wrists. Wrists remain cocked.
  • Two-thirds down: Pressure has let off. Wrists remain cocked.
  • 8:30 to 7:30 position: Player begins to straighten wrists. Wrists begin to uncock!
  • Just past ball position: Club shaft in line with arms. Wrists have completely uncocked.
  • Up to finish: Clubhead speed literally pulls player into finish. Wrists and arms begin to fold as they slow the club down.
Now, I know I'm fishing here -- this question is bound to be sooo hard to answer -- but when did the swoosh begin? I'm gonna make a wild guess that it happened when the wrists began to uncock in the lower third of the downswing! Somewhere along the line I learned to tell the difference between "cocked" and "uncocked." Oh yeah, the fact that I had to start the uncocking myself was also a tipoff.

I'm not ridiculing Court, just trying to make this point memorable -- the swish drill is misleading. It breeds lazy thinking based on a faulty comparison; namely, that the noise in a swish drill is generated in a manner identical to the way we create clubhead speed at the bottom. The drill seems to indicate -- and the players and teachers do NOTHING to dispel the myth -- that only massive clubhead speed capable of sending a golf ball hundreds of yards can generate air noise, and that if you get the noise, you have generated that massive speed. But the twig didn't generate massive speed, and yet it made the noise. Either you can drive balls with that stick, or the swish drill is misleading; you can make the call.

"Feeling the clubhead," by comparison, rarely gets mentioned anymore and, when it is, it's treated like some mystical experience that only a few monks who spent years at a practice range in the Himalayas can ever truly experience; yet this is a proven method for creating the clubhead speed we're after. My swoosh drill (of which you have only seen the first part) teaches you this simple technique. I spent years trying to figure out this whole "feeling the clubhead" thing with very little success until I learned how to swoosh, and suddenly the descriptions in the old books made sense.

Let me try again to explain "feeling the clubhead" in simple terms: Your wrists may feel more or less pressure from shaft loading on the way down, but otherwise they are doing nothing until you reach the "swoosh zone," where you consciously uncock them with the intent of squaring the clubface when it contacts the ball. This -- the conscious uncocking of your wrists -- is where the swoosh starts; and if you succeed, the speed you generated will quite literally pull you into the finish. Even though the first post only focused on that "swoosh zone," it still should have pulled you into the finish. If it pulls you into your finish, you swooshed. Period. No guesswork needed.

If you can't feel whether your wrists are cocked or not during your swing, you are either gripping too tightly, paying no attention to what you're doing, or completely numb. In any other case, you WILL know whether you swoosh or not, even if you're deaf because your iPod is blasting Godsmack directly into your brain, because it's a tactile feeling. Tactile means it's tangible, it can be felt. Forgive me for belaboring this point, but I don't have to hear my joints cracking to feel the conscious uncocking of my wrists.

Does the swish drill teach you this very concrete approach to feeling the clubhead? No. The swish drill teaches you to listen for a sound that you can generate without accomplishing the very thing the drill purports to teach. And if you did manage to create that sound and if it did manage to teach you this move, you would be unable to recreate it because the grip makes a very different sound than the clubhead does. That, to my way of thinking, is a useless drill.

And although it should go without saying, the swoosh is a power move. You don't always want to do it. Just as you can tell when you swoosh, you can tell when you don't. Again, it's a tactile feeling... and again, the swish drill can't help you learn it. With my swoosh drill, you know exactly what you are or are not doing before the clubface ever reaches the ball.

This post is already ridiculously long, but I'm going to quickly list some of the ways the swish drill teaches incorrect technique. SD stands for "swish drill."

The SD uses only one hand. You don't swing the club with only one hand, so this ought to send danger signals right away. Without the arms working as a unit, the arm doing the drill doesn't duplicate the actual hitting motion. Specifically:
  • Your arm can easily get in the wrong position as it swings through, because it's working all by itself. For example, I have a tendency to bend my elbow during the swish drill.
  • Your hand comes through too much on the lead side of your body because it's working independently of the other arm. This means it comes through the hitting zone sooner -- a timing problem -- and causes your upper arm to move away from your chest through the hitting zone, which can result in chicken-winging.
  • Your arm rotates much more than it would with both hands on the grip. This causes you to rotate your forearm too much during the swing, which will adversely affect both your accuracy and consistency of contact.
  • Your shoulders don't move as they normally would, which can change your spine angle on your downswing.
The SD doesn't use the weight of the clubhead either, which you will certainly be using when you hit the ball.
  • Without weight on the end of the shaft, you don't learn to feel the clubhead during the swing.
  • Without that weight, not only are the previously-mentioned problems magnified, but new ones pop up; for example, the effort of uncocking the wrists against the inertia of the clubhead actually helps you learn to hit down on the ball and not lift your shoulders. That benefit is lost with the SD, even if you use both hands.
And these are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head!

So Court, I'm asking you to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. Try doing this my way while I'm posting the whole series on the swoosh (which includes a Part 2 and a Part 3, and then one more post on how different teachers have written about what I call "the swoosh") before you make a decision. I think you'll find that you can indeed identify a swoosh without any noise... and that it feels somewhat different than the swish drill has led you to expect. And once you learn to feel the clubhead, it should help the other parts of your game as well.

And since you pointed out that a swoosh is a corporate logo, Court, I'd have to agree that your observation also fits the swoosh at the bottom. When it comes to the swoosh, I want you to JUST DO IT!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Swoosh at the Bottom, Part 1

Part of the Route 67 series

I originally intended to start talking about upright swings and the upper body power source today, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should cover this first. This swoosh is what we're trying to do, regardless of which power source we focus on, so an understanding of this may make it easier to understand how the power sources themselves work.

Just what is the swoosh at the bottom of the swing? To put it simply, the swoosh is the primary cause of clubhead speed -- and therefore of distance. Learn to swoosh properly and you really can gain a huge amount of yardage with very little effort. In fact, if you drive the ball less than 200 yards, I don't think it's unreal to expect anywhere from 20-50 extra yards when you learn how to swoosh. (That goes for the women as well as the men. There's certainly an element of physical strength involved, but once you learn the technique you're 85% there.)

Teachers and pros are notorious for "teaching" the swoosh without really giving you anything useful to learn from. The most common method is to take hold of your driver by the head and swing the shaft, trying to make a swooshing noise when the grip is near your feet. "If you hear the swoosh higher in your backswing," they'll say, "you've uncocked your wrists too soon." They are precisely correct... yet the explanation rarely helps, does it? There are other things they sometimes say -- things connected to the swoosh -- but they don't make sure you connect them, and they describe them using language that is correct from one point of view but misleading from another.

Today we start learning about the swoosh -- not just what it is, but how it's done, how it feels, how you can know if you've done it correctly, and how to repeat it.

Defining the Swoosh
First, forget the backswing. The best way to learn the swoosh is to focus on the very bottom of your swing -- if your arms were the hands of a clock, we would be focusing on the 7:30-8:00 position. (That's the position of your left arm; your right arm if you're a lefty. The other arm will bend as you cock your wrists, so it may appear to be at some other angle.) That's the top of the swoosh; forget about the rest of the backswing for now, but allow yourself to swing all the way to your followthrough as you learn how to swoosh.

Take a driver or 3-wood and hold it properly -- by the grip, with the head down where you want it to be when you hit the ball. Put something on the ground (a tee works fine) and push it down where you won't hit it; you just want something to mark where the ball would normally be. We'll be using it later.

Putt-length swooshFirst, I want you to "putt" with your driver. Just swing the driver back until your arms are at that 7:30-8:00 position we talked about, then forward "through the ball." Nothing fancy, just let the driver shaft stay straight, in line with your arms, as if you were putting. It feels like your hands kind of glide to a stop, then glide forward, doesn't it? It's nice and smooth, the way a putting stroke should feel. For a few of you, this is pretty much the way your driver is moving when you hit the ball. It's no wonder the ball doesn't go very far, is it? There are uses for this kind of movement -- it's not very different from what I call a punch shot -- but getting distance isn't one of them. Make a few swings like this, just to get a sense of how it feels.

Pitch-length swooshNow, swing your driver and arms back to that 7:30-8:00 position again, but this time let your wrists cock so the driver shaft gets roughly parallel to the ground, then swing back "through the ball"; your wrists should uncock to their original position, so the club is pointing straight as it passes the "ball." This is the feel of a short pitch shot, and I think this is a really good move for an approach shot as well, where you want to control how far the ball travels. It doesn't take a lot of effort; that's why it's easy to control the distance.

The problem is, for the vast majority of us, it's also how our drive feels when we hit it. This is NOT the way to get distance! Make this swing a few times though, and mix it in with some of those "putting" strokes we did earlier. Can you feel a difference in how your wrists behave during this short swing? Telling the difference between these two is a lot of what the pros call "feel"; it's just a sense of where your wrists are (and consequently, where the club is) during the swing.

The full swooshNow it gets interesting. Let's make the same swing again, back to that 7:30-8:00 position again, but this time let your wrists cock as much as you comfortably can. Even with your arms down in the 7:30-8:00 position, the head of the driver will be as high as your head or higher! You'll feel pressure against your wrists -- it's momentum from the weight of the clubhead as it swings back. The second that pressure eases off (it takes less strength if you wait till you feel it ease), I want you to swing your hands and arms back "through the ball," straightening your wrists so the shaft of the club is pointing at the "ball" as the head passes it, just like you did with the pitch shot. It may take you several tries to do it properly; that's ok. Work with it until you find a rhythm where you can make that short swing, fully cocking your wrists, then getting the club back to your address position. It takes some effort to get the clubface back to square, and I'd be willing to bet you can't stop the club from going to a full followthrough when you do this.

I'd also be willing to bet that very few of you feel that sensation when you normally swing a club!

Let me explain what you just did in "golf terms":
  • You loaded the shaft (that's what caused the pressure you felt in your hands and wrists)
  • You felt the change of direction (that's when the pressure in your hands and wrists eased off)
  • You swooshed the club (that's when the club returned from its fully-cocked position to the address position as it swung through the ball)
I bet it felt like that club was really flying when it reached the bottom of the swing, didn't it? That's because it was -- look how high the clubhead was when your wrists were fully-cocked, and how quickly it traveled from that height to the ground. Do you think you developed some clubhead speed with that little move? You betcha you did! That baby WAS flying... and you weren't really even trying! You were just focused on trying to straighten your wrists.

You may not realize it, but the vast majority of your clubhead speed comes from this short bottom part of the swing. Your hands traveled only one-third to one-quarter of your entire backswing length, yet the clubhead traveled farther than it would travel from the top of your backswing to its position at the start of the swoosh.

That's enough for today. Spend a little time working on your swoosh, and we'll take the next step tomorrow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Verizon Heritage

Winner: Jim Furyk

In the wider world of golf, Y.E. Yang grabbed a victory at the European Tour's Volvo China Open. The Fresh Express Classic (Nationwide Tour) crowned a new first-time winner, Kevin Chappell. And Mark O'Meara lost a heartbreaker to Bernhard Langer when Mother Nature cut the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am short. (O'Meara had just pulled even when the last round was cancelled.)

But Brian Davis may have suffered the biggest heartbreak of all. Going into a playoff with Jim Furyk at Harbour Town, Davis's shot rolled just off the green into the rocks and sand... and he brushed a reed with his club. He then went to official Slugger White and called a penalty on himself. Furyk, obviously not happy for Davis to lose this way, went to White afterward to confirm that it really was a penalty. Apparently the reed wasn't growing, but just laying there, so it counted as moving a loose impediment and cost Davis two strokes.

And the tournament.

I never cease to be amazed at how much class we see in professional golf... especially when the players who show it the most often are the ones with the most to lose. The golf gods certainly owe you one, Brian!

This gives Jim Furyk two wins this year, along with Ernie Els. Because of the unusual ending for this event, Brian actually gets more verse space than Jim does. But Jim is a class act as well, and I know he'll understand:
Brian Davis’s hopes really tumbled,
But he gracefully lost when he stumbled
Though it meant Jim's won twice.
Still, Jim’s words were precise
When he said Brian's heart never crumbled.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Verizon Heritage Steeplechase

I'm not sure any tournament has been a better example of "horses for courses" than the Verizon Heritage this week. The par-71 course is a mere 6973 yards (short for these players), and the pros are basically stampeding along its narrow fairways. An amazing 82 players made the cut at even par!

While a lot of players are grabbing attention this week -- Jim Furyk and Luke Donald are rebounding from missed cuts at the Masters, Nick O'Hearn shot a 64, Stephen Ames and Fredrik Jacobson each 65, and Brian Gay (who blitzed the field by 10 strokes last year) is well back at 2-under -- I'd like to take a quick look at Ricky Barnes. After a Top 10 at Augusta, he has quietly gotten himself to 9-under, currently T3.

Length doesn't mean a lot at Harbour Town because it's so short, but Driving Accuracy does. Barnes is T10 in the field at 78.6%. He's only T40 in GIR at 59.3% hit, but the commentators are saying that the tricky nature of the fairways there make hitting 12 of 18 a real accomplishment, so he's actually doing pretty well there. I don't see stats for his scrambling this week, but he's T5 in total putts (25.3 per round) and #1 in putts per GIR. Measured against my 67 rule, this is putting him in great shape for a run on Sunday.

Will Barnes be the subject of my Limerick Summary tomorrow, or will it be Furyk (the current leader) or someone else? It's too close to call right now. But after a long struggle, it looks like Ricky Barnes may have found his game again...

Provided he can avoid getting trampled in the stampede. Horseshoes can do a lot of damage to an otherwise good swing.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jerry Rice Goes 0-for-1

The Fresh Express Classic is a tournament hosted by retired NFL great Jerry Rice, who also happens to be serious about becoming a pro golfer. He had hopes of making the cut in this Nationwide event but, much as had been predicted, he didn't even come close. He's the 6th big-name athlete to try and fail.

I hate that he didn't -- not just because it would be good for the Nationwide Tour, but because I like Jerry and I like to see the underdog succeed.

I hope that he doesn't give up. After that first round 83, he bounced back with a very respectable 75 (TPC Stonebrae is a par-71). He improved in almost every statistic except Driving Accuracy; however, he was 35 yards longer and hit more GIR. His +5 score Friday was basically the result of a double and a triple; otherwise he had 3 birdies, 3 bogeys, and the rest pars. I think that kind of comeback shows he can handle the mental game. Give him a few more events to get used to the conditions and the level of competition -- and some practice hitting fairways and greens -- and I think he just may start making some cuts. (Friday he hit 62% of fairways and 61% GIR. OUCH!)

Like I said, I hope he keeps trying. You go, Jerry!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting Stuck

Part of the Route 67 series

Ok, let's take a look at the phenomenon frequently called "getting stuck." This should help you understand why players have traditionally used one or the other of the two power sources, but not both at once. Please understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using both power sources; if you get it together, you can hit the ball an amazing distance. However, you're gonna have to spend a lot of hours practicing to keep it working, and even then it might desert you under pressure. Focusing on a single power source will give you a simpler swing that requires less practice and is less likely to "leave you" unexpectedly.

And, oh yes, you'll still hit it a long way.

First, we need to define the term "getting stuck." It's actually a description of the feel rather than the physical problem. If you've ever seen a ballerina or a figure skater spin, you know that she starts slowly, with her arms extended straight out; then, as she folds her arms closer to her body, she picks up speed until she looks like more like a spinning spike, with her arms extended straight up over her head. The basic principle is that the closer her weight is to her center of gravity, the faster she spins.

Move this to the golf swing. Your hands and arms are farther from your center of gravity (just think of your spine) while your feet are right under it. As a result, your legs move faster than your hands in the downswing; your legs get to that "hit the ball" position before your hands can, and your hands can't catch up -- hence, they "get stuck" behind you. Rather than swinging down the line of your shot, they have to swing around your lower body, which generally results in a push shot... and the ball's not going to end up where you intended. Consequently, many players will flip their wrists (remember, that's bad if you expect to be accurate!) and hit a big hook to the other side of the course.

Needless to say, "getting stuck" is a timing issue that has less effect on a single power source swing. If you focus on your upper body for power, your lower body moves slower and the only way you're going to get stuck is if you lean away from the target. Likewise, if you focus on your lower body for power, your legs are going to pull your hands and arms around at the same time... or at least, they should. If you're following the logic of this, you may wonder why the upper body power source doesn't just "throw" the hands out in what we call an "over-the-top" move, or why the lower body power source doesn't get stuck just like the attempts to use both power sources at once.

It's time to talk about planes again. If you remember yesterday's post, you'll recall that I said that upper body swingers tend to have upright planes and lower body swingers tend to have flat planes. Pay attention; I'm about to explain some of the conflicting teachings you may have heard.

Let's start with the upright swing. When the hands are above the plane, the body can turn a bit without the arms moving much at all. If you've ever heard a teacher suggest a motion like "tolling a bell" to start the downswing, this is an upper body power source/upright swing thought. Obviously, if your hands go up higher, they have to come down more steeply; both of these moves cause the hands to move down more than out -- toward the ground rather than toward the ball. It's also the source of the older "two-plane loop" swing; your hands go back to the high position, then they move down more than out as you change direction, before resuming their approach directly at the ball.

With the flat swing, the hands are below the shoulder plane... which means the arms will (at worst) end up flat against the chest. Unless you are ridiculously flexible in your waist, your shoulders won't be too far behind your hips, which also means your arms (against your chest) will come right along for the ride. They can't get stuck because you've removed the extra movement of the arms and shoulder joints allowed by the upright plane. In addition, the lower plane puts the forearm into a stronger position to resist the leg motion than it would be in the upright position. If the teacher says you should "slide your hips forward a bit, then turn" when you start down, this is a general two-plane move (it causes the loop) that is sometimes used with the upright swing but is almost always used with the flat swing.

One guy determined to beat this limitation was Ben Hogan. His swing is a two-plane, two-power source swing that takes a lot of practice to master. If you are having a problem with slices, you probably shouldn't use it unless you enjoy frustration. Why? Because -- and this is part of Hogan's genius -- he designed a swing that cannot go left (or if you're a lefty, it won't go right) unless you hit it perfect. Hogan had a horrible problem with hooks, so he designed a swing that, if you don't do it perfectly, you'll get stuck and push the ball. He guaranteed this by using an extremely weak grip (that is, his hands were turned on the grip so that his thumbs were turned toward the target); this way, he couldn't flip the club enough to hit a big hook. The only way Hogan could make the ball go left was if he made the swing perfectly; in that case, he could hit a slight draw.

Hogan's swing uses a neutral swing plane. This allowed him to get some of the power benefits of an upright swing (which can better use the back muscles for strength) while still keeping the arms just low enough that the shoulders could help prevent the hands from getting stuck (the shoulders can still provide some extra bracing for the arms, and the forearm is still turned in a slightly stronger position to resist the leg drive).

All-in-all, Hogan's swing has been the best attempt thus far to use both power sources in a swing, which is why it's so popular with the pros. But unless you have lots of practice time, you aren't going to make rapid progress using his swing. (Even with a lot of practice, you may not make rapid progress. You need only to look at the pros and their struggles to confirm this.) The best bet for a weekend player is to focus on one power source or the other; it's simpler and more natural for most players.

I think that's enough for you to think about this week. Next week we'll start looking at the two single power source swings available to the weekend golfer -- probably the upright swing first, since it tends to get short-schrift these days.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Power Sources in Your Swing

Part of the Route 67 series

Today I will explain to you why it takes hours and hours of practice to get better at golf... and how you can change things so you DON'T need hours and hours of practice to get better at golf. It's so dreadfully simple that you'll say "How did I miss that?"

It all comes down to the power sources in the golf swing. Simply put, there are two -- the upper body and the lower body. Not coincidentally, these two power sources coincide with different approaches to the swing... and even the equipment itself!
  • THE UPPER BODY POWER SOURCE, sometimes called a "hands-and-arms" swing, is the dominant power source used in what we now call the traditional or classic swing. The traditional swing tends to be more upright, and was very popular during the time of hickory (softer) shafts.
  • THE LOWER BODY POWER SOURCE, sometimes called a "hips-and-legs" swing, is the dominant power source used in what we now call the modern swing. The modern swing tends to be flatter, and became very popular during the time of steel (stiffer) shafts.
Let me take a moment to explain upright and flat swings. Imagine you have set up to hit the ball and turned to the top of your backswing. Draw a line from the ball through your highest shoulder (left for a lefthander, right for a righthander) and check the position of your hands. If your hands are above this line, you have an upright swing; if your hands are below the line, you have a flat swing.

For a couple of examples (male and female) you might recognize, Jack Nicklaus and Juli Inkster have been upright swingers, while Matt Kuchar and Rosie Jones are very flat swingers.

Now, I don't want you to get the idea that these two power sources are entirely separate. An "arms-and-hands" swinger also uses his/her lower body, and a "hips-and-legs" swinger also uses his/her upper body. It's a question of focus. Players using their upper bodies as their primary power source do use their lower bodies; it's just that their lower bodies move in response to their upper bodies, rather than through a conscious effort of the player. The same is true of players using their lower bodies as their primary power source; their upper bodies react in response to the lower body's movement.

However, things have ceased to be quite so simple these days... and therein lies the difficulty. Blame Ben Hogan for this one; while Ben has been accused of having a flat swing, that is completely incorrect. Hogan did swing on a flatter plane than most players of his time (he played during the switchover between hickory and steel, so most players were still fairly upright), but his swing is not flat; it's on a neutral swing plane. In our hypothetical example above, Ben's hands would be centered on the line.

This neutral plane is the Holy Grail of most players (and teachers) these days. Do you know why? Because it's the best position for a player trying to use both power sources at once! Modern players are trying to get everything they can out of their swing, so the logical approach is to use every power source at their disposal. Makes sense, right?

Here's the problem: These two power sources work on different principles, so making them work in tandem causes timing problems. That's the reason golf takes so much practice: Most players, be they weekenders or pros, are attempting to use both power sources at once. I think this may be the result of past player-teachers like Bobby Jones trying to explain what each part of the body was doing during the swing. Jones was a rare flat swinger during the age of upright swingers; everybody wanted to be Jones, and Warner Brothers obliged by making his teachings -- which rightly spent a lot of time on leg action (the series was called "How I Play Golf" for a reason!) -- readily available. Players then took what they learned from Jones and mixed it with what their local (upright) pro taught them, and the confusion began.

If you want to develop a controllable swing and eliminate the need to spend so much time practicing, you need to focus on maximizing only one power source. Choosing the one that suits you best (and we will get to that in future posts) can make you play way beyond what others expect, and with less practice. For the record, that's why Fred Couples and Tom Watson are playing so well; they are essentially upper body players... and they know it. Their lower bodies move well under them but aren't their primary power source... and again, they know it. Because of this, they don't have the timing problems of other pros. (And for the record, according to the Champions Tour website, Tom hits it 281.5 yards with 71.73% accuracy; Freddie's Champion Tour stats aren't up, but they've got to be at least as good as the PGA stats I listed yesterday.)

There's so much more to be said on this, but that's enough for today. We'll pick it up again tomorrow, and we'll focus on the most publicized timing problem... getting stuck. That may best help you understand the differences between the modern and classic swings.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Distance vs. Direction

Part of the Route 67 series

You're either long, or you're accurate... but you can't be both. It's one of those things "they" say and that "everybody" knows. We automatically assume the long guys are gonna spray it like a water hose, and we call their style "bomb & gouge" -- bomb it a long way, gouge it out of the rough. And if the other guys don't say they can't play because the course is too long, someone else will say it for them. For example, last week at the Masters, I heard announcers blame Steve Stricker's struggles on a lack of distance.

Excuse me, but Stricker's 2 inches taller (6') and 30 lbs heavier (180) than Anthony Kim... but Kim is 10 yards longer (288.9 vs 278.5)! Does that make sense to you? Then again, Stricker's 11 percentage points more accurate than Kim (67.09% vs 56.25%). That's what you'd expect, isn't it? Longer or straighter, not both.

So let's add Fred Couples to the mix. He's one inch shorter than Stricker and 5 lbs lighter. But he drives it 286.0 yards with 66.52% accuracy! Essentially, he has Kim's distance AND Stricker's accuracy. This doesn't match our expectations.

Distance and direction are NOT enemies. Except for solid contact, they are caused by different things in the golf swing. Let me give you the basics today; file them away in your mind for reference later in the series.

Accuracy is caused by consistent contact. Whether that is a consistent amount of draw, fade, or hitting it square and straight, you must hit it the same way every time. I have posted repeatedly about not rotating your forearms during your swing, whether you're putting or driving... and I have said that Jack Nicklaus did the same thing. Monday night Michael Breed on The Golf Fix backed me up on this as well. He was talking about how consistent Lee Westwood was, and he attributed it to Lee keeping his forearms quiet during his swing. We'll come back to this in a later post.

Distance, contrary to popular belief, is not caused by drawing the ball. Distance (or lack thereof) is caused by ball trajectory. You do realize that lefty Phil's fade is the same shot as righty Tiger's draw, don't you? Hit the ball lower and it goes farther; hit the ball higher and it stops quicker. High hooks behave like high fades; low fades (AKA power fades) behave like low draws. It's always been that way; you can read instructional material by Bobby Jones, from 80 years ago, and read the same thing. The pros know it now as well; that's why they go nuts searching for their ideal launch angle.

Now, knowing this can help you adjust your game a little, but it has a real impact on your equipment. Have you wondered why the pros often hit their 3-woods almost as far as their drivers? Or why Phil uses a 6-degree driver? We'll assume for this discussion that a 10-degree driver gives you the ideal launch angle for your drive. Now, here's how this knowledge helps us choose equipment:

Let's start with the 3-wood. Closing the face for a draw effectively lessens the loft. What that means is that closing down that 15-degree square face might change it to an 11- or even a 10-degree hook face. If you had a 3-wood with a slightly longer shaft -- Ben Hogan was known for this -- you would hit a 3-wood draw that went just as far as your straight driver! (If you just closed the face of your driver, you would lower your launch angle and reduce your carry. In dry conditions, you might get more distance from roll; but in wet conditions, drawing the 3-wood with a normal-length shaft would probably fly farther and maybe give you more distance overall.)

Now let's look at Phil. If you paid any attention to the announcers last week, you know that Phil prefers to hit a fade; it actually gives him a bit of an advantage on most holes at Augusta, 16 being one notable exception. Opening the face for a fade effectively increases the loft. If you open the face on a 10-degree driver, it might turn into a 14- or 15-degree 3-wood! So Phil starts with a 6-degree face... and when he opens it, it turns into a 9- or 10-degree open face.

In each case, players are changing the loft to get the desired launch angle (trajectory) for the maximum distance with their desired shot shape. There are other things involved in getting the ball to travel as far as possible, but trajectory is the start. And to get the desired accuracy to go with this desired trajectory, you change other things like ball position. These aspects are interrelated; in order to get both distance and accuracy, changes to achieve one dictate which changes are made to achieve the other. But balanced properly, you can have both length AND accuracy.

Tomorrow we'll start looking at the components behind distance, beginning with the power sources in the swing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Series: Finding the Perfect Swing for You

I promised you a new series, and here it is. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever tried to do what this series will do, and I expect it will revolutionize the approach many of you take to the game.

Yeah, that's a pretty big claim, but I think I can deliver.

Most weekend players (and even many pros) struggle with their games because they're confused by the sheer number of conflicting techniques presented to them as "THE way to better golf." Let me clue you in on a secret: There is no single best way to swing a golf club. Everybody is different -- their builds are different, their musculature is different, and they have different "learned responses" to different movements -- so each of these players will, when they are playing their best, swing the club a little different. Jim Furyk, Lee Trevino, Annika Sorenstam, Jack Nicklaus, Juli Inkster, Arnold Palmer -- each of these has a very different way of swinging the club, and yet each of them is a major champion and each has dominated their respective tour at one time or another.

While my approach to golf can best be summed up as "creating a low-maintenance swing," there's a lot of room for variation there. If you've read my book Ruthless Putting, then you know what I mean. The book outlines four "low-maintenance" strokes, each different, and helps you identify which stroke (or combination of strokes) most resembles your natural way of putting; then it helps you use that knowledge to apply low-maintenance principles to your natural stroke. Ten people can use the book, and each may have a different stroke when they finish... but each will have a stroke that works well.

This series will apply that same concept to the full swing. I'm going to break the swing down according to some standard criteria -- body types, swing planes, temperaments, power sources, etc. -- and then reinterpret them in ways you've probably never thought of -- utilizing your existing muscle memory patterns, using physical limitations to maximize consistency, choosing equipment to exploit your existing swing, matching what you feel to what you do, and the like. When we're done, you'll be able to examine a teaching and know whether it will work in your swing or not, and you'll be able to choose the techniques that complement your swing and require less work for integration into it. You may decide you've been trying to swing in a way that works against your strengths; if so, you'll know what you need to change, so you don't waste time jumping from one technique to another.

When we're done, you should be more accurate and be hitting the ball farther as well. And it's not going to cost you a penny! What more could you ask for?

I'm nicknaming this series Route 67 because it's intended to put you on the road to better scoring. (Clever, huh? I was up all night thinking of that one.) These posts, each of which may be categorized with more than one label, will all be in a "Route 67" category and I will probably make a special page for them later on. The name, of course, comes from this post at the end of 2009 where I pointed out that relatively few PGA players rank better than 67% in the Driving Accuracy, GIR, or Scrambling stats. When we're done, you should be well on your way to beating those stats. (BTW, I checked PGATour.com while writing this, and the averages STILL aren't beating 67%.)

So get ready for a little road trip down Route 67, starting with a tour of the eternal struggle between accuracy and distance.