I was only eight or nine years old when I first picked up a golf club. At 16, my parents got me my first set of lessons. It was a series of six full swing sessions with the local pro. After the third lesson, I started making pretty good contact. After the fifth lesson, my instructor asked me if I had broken 80 yet. What? I was incredibly confused because I was starting to play regularly and was shooting in the 90s and remember thinking, “I can’t even hit a bunker shot because nobody has shown me how. How does he think I can break 80?” He was building in expectations of excellence, but I didn’t know it at the time that he was also teaching me to strike the ball the old fashion way. On the lesson tee, he was rolling my hands over time and again through the hitting zone and ingraining a reliance on the hand-eye coordination I had developed as a young man. This worked pretty well, through my 20s and 30s, but I’ve since come to learn that the method he taught has left me with a serious swing flaw (early release) and led me down a path that I need to exit from.
The modern-day player is taught to make the swing from the ground up and initiate the downswing with the big muscles of the legs and butt. This generates an inside to outside swing path and a powerful strike due to the kinetic energy built up from properly releasing the club late. You lead with your body, and the hands are along for the ride. I was given none of that and 44 years later, I’ve come to the conclusion, that to take the next step in game improvement, I need to unlearn this bad habit.
Sounds like a tall task for a weekend jockey, but I’ve got a plan. Step one has already been accomplished because I’ve identified the problem through video and lesson tee analysis from multiple swing instructors. All my bad shots stem from this core dysfunction. I’m still carrying a 4-handicap and you may be thinking, “What’s the problem, that’s pretty good shooting.” Well, I have been scraping by on short game improvements, and to get more fulfillment, I’ve got to gain more consistency in my ball striking.
Step two is underway. Deactivate my right hand – the main culprit in the early release. I’ve removed it from my swing and taken to hitting left hand only shots in my back yard off my range mat. These are little 20 yard pitch shots, but if I release the club too early instead of letting my body pull my hand through the shot, I hit it incredibly fat. If I do it right, I finish in balance over my left foot with my left arm tucked neatly into my left side (no chicken wing). Two weekends ago, I hit 100 balls like this. Last weekend another 100. Today, I hit 50 one-handed, and mixed in two-handed shots with the last 50. I love this drill because of the pronounced positive and negative feedback. Right now, about one in four left-handed shots are mishit, but when I put both hands on, the contact is very good so I’m directionally pleased.
Someone said it takes 10,000 repetitions to build a habit. At this rate, it’ll take 1.5 years to build that in. I hope it goes quicker than that – wish me luck! Are you working on any swing changes this winter?