Tag Archives: swing

Turning Good Exercise into Great Play!

Two weeks ago, I added a new golf exercise/drill to my weekly workout and the short-term results have been excellent!  I drew some inspiration from a post Jim put up at TheGratefulGolfer on an 89 year young gentlemen he played with who shot his age.  I figured I better get cracking if I was going to play in that league.

I’ve observed from some swing video that my left leg is slightly bowed when I connect which is a power drain and consistency killer.  A year back, I tried snapping my left knee on impact and nearly wrecked my leg.   But starting in January, I’ve been doing squats and deadlifts as part of my workouts and my lower body feels stronger.  What better time to correct this fault.

This drill I’m sharing is offered by the Rotaryswing.com website.  I am not affiliated with them and have never taken or paid them any money.  They call it the Dead Drill and I have no idea why.  I started working the drill just holding a club to my chest.  I’d take it through the three steps and do one set of 30 as part of my exercises.  The first 20 were incremental (stopping at the check points) and the last 10 were at full swing speed.  If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel a stretch in your left oblique muscle after 30 reps.

A week ago, I hit balls on the range and for the last six, tried this move.  Wow!  Straight and solid contact on every ball with a mid-iron.  I left the range hopeful.  Later that afternoon I went with a gap wedge up to my school field and hit about 20 balls.  It was awful as I laid the sod over half of them, but chalked it up to fatigue and didn’t quit using it in the workouts.  Saturday, I decided to ratchet up to three sets of 30 in my workout and afterwards my oblique was confirming why they call it the Dead Drill.

The next day I played The Salt Pond in Bethany Beach, DE.  This is an executive course with full length par-3s from 100 to 200 yards, and a couple of par-4s.  Nothing extraordinarily difficult but you need to strike it well to score.  I didn’t warm up and teed off at 7:30 a.m.  With every swing, I’d rehearse the drill three times then pull the trigger.  My irons came off like rifle shots.  I hit 14 greens and shot even par.  Now before you say, “Brian’s got himself a nice WOOD band-aid”, I’ll reserve final judgement until I play a few rounds where I need to hit driver.  One key I noticed was how in balance I was at the end of each swing.  It really felt great and I’ll provide a future update.

Here’s the drill video.  Just skip to the 12:20 minute mark to pass over all the sales stuff.  Play well!

 

 

 

Help With My Swing!

Yesterday I took four shots of swing video.  There are two down-the-line and two face on segments with a 7-iron and driver.   I picked out a couple things to work on before and during today’s round and will let you know how I fared, but would love to have your feedback.  Please send in any and all suggestions and observations!

Thanks!

Driver Face On

Driver Down The Line

7-iron Face on

7-iron Down The Line

 

Improve Your Golf – A Plan That Works

Are you the type of player that enjoys golf more when you have moments of greatness mixed in with poor play?  Or do you get more satisfaction from a steady level of competent performances, no blow-up holes, but with little fanfare?  The answer depends largely on your personality and your preference for risk.  If we put a professional persona on each type, Phil Mickelson might be the roller coaster riding risk taker and Nick Faldo the solid performing steady eddie.  Each had comparable levels of success in major tournaments and across their careers, but were highly different in the way they built their records.  Because I’m generally risk adverse, I’m in the Faldo camp, how about you?

For those preferring a steady course, I have some advice that may help you get to the level of consistency you seek.  The following plan has been working for me for two months (which coincides with my last lesson of the season).  In that session, my instructor made a couple of key changes to my setup.  The specifics are not important because they are unique to me and not you.  The key takeaway is that they addressed fundamentals, and to improve and play consistent golf, it starts with a mastery of the fundamentals.  I know, not very profound, but without fundamentals, good course management and sensible practice habits will only get you so far.  If you want to get to a level of real consistency, you need to work to get the fundamentals ingrained so that you can strike the ball with confidence.  It’s sort of a chicken and egg scenario.  For years I worked on various techniques to improve my practice habits and course management.  But until I understood and could replicate the mechanics needed for good ball striking, my improvement was limited.  Seeking the advice from a pro is a start, not the end of your journey.  I’ve had to iterate through three years of lessons before I found the keys that resonated to a point where I feel I can take my game to an away course, in a variety of weather conditions, and know I have a good chance to play a successful round because my ball striking will not falter.

Being well prepared with the fundamentals is a good feeling.  Handling the smallest details are also important.  In my last lesson, I discussed a concern about my grip that I had always wondered about.  Use a long thumb or short thumb on my left hand.  I’ve read conflicting points on that in different instruction books.  Stupid little topic but if you’ve been switching back and forth over the years, how can you expect to build consistency into your swing?  So I had the discussion, got the recommendation (short) and have gone with that ever since.  It’s best to dialog and eliminate these inconsistencies because they create doubt.  Get them worked out because it provides a baseline of correctness you can start from when working on your swing.  Many of the fundamentals can be applied using different techniques and it’s important to pick a single approach and stick with it.  Elevate your baseline understanding of the fundamentals, work them continuously in practice, and you will gain the consistency you seek.

After the fundamentals, you must work to simulate game conditions during practice.  This is critical for those who have limited time to practice and for players having trouble transitioning from the practice tee to the golf course.  There are two aspects to focus on.  First is creating real pressure.  If you struggle with choking on or around the greens or having your range swing disappear on the golf course try the following:  Play 9-hole games of up-and-down and / or have putting matches with a friend or with yourself to simulate real round pressure.  Go through your full pre-shot routine on every chip, pitch, or putt.  Play for small wagers.  Next, head to the driving range, where you can play a simulated round on a familiar course, hitting all the tee shots and approach shots and varying targets on every swing.  Keep score in your head.  If you are playing poorly, don’t quit!  Learning how to handle adversity is an important skill that’s worth practicing.   Second is preparing to play shots you will need during your rounds.  Last Saturday, I was on the practice tee and it was sunny and 70 degrees.  I knew my round the next day would be played in 40 degree temps with heavy winds, so every iron shot I hit during my simulated round was a knock-down.  Somebody watching me may have been wondering what I was doing, hitting all these low bullets, but conditions the next day were difficult and I felt prepared, and was able to execute a lot of good low iron approaches.

How do you measure your success?  Your scores are the best indicator.  Say you are a 20-handicap and average between 90 and 100 strokes per round.  If you are improving your fundamentals and practicing correctly, you should hope to have a solid string of scores in the low 90s and occasionally break into the high 80s.  For lower handicap players the same holds true.  My current index is 4.4.  With my limited ability to play and practice I try to keep my scores under 80 and the current trend is good with the last seven in the 70s.

To truly improve, you need to seek professional instruction and focus on getting your fundamentals ironed out during the lessons.  Then dedicate 20% of your practice time to mechanics and 80% to the skills you’ll need on the course.  You’ll find the transition becomes seamless from practice to play.  Whether you hit it like Phil or Faldo, mastering the fundamentals and correcting the way you prepare will help you play better over time.  Give it a try.

Good luck and play well!

 

 

 

Playing After A Lesson – Smart?

Have you ever played a round where you were bombing your driver and leaving yourself with some awesome looks at approach shots, but you subsequently bungled every one of them?  Last weekend I had my best driving day of the year but the 80 I shot at Poolesville was the absolute worst score I could have recorded for that very reason. The carnage included seven unforced errors from the “A-position”.   So yesterday I took my final lesson of the 2018 seasonal package in hopes that I could correct my awful iron play.  As usual, my instructor corrected something small just as we started (I was standing too far from the ball) and then we got to work on my major issues.  Of course, they were the same issues I’ve been dealing with my entire career, which is why they’re still issues.  We made great progress on the lesson tee and I booked a time at my club to play today.

What is your experience playing after a lesson?  Smart, not smart?  I think it depends on the lesson and where you are playing.  Last time I tried it the day after my putting lesson.  There was no adjustment period and was if someone else had possessed my body with the putter.  I made everything I looked at and the game was very easy.

Today was different.  Perhaps my club is not the best venue if you are working on swing mechanics because the first four holes at Blue Mash are very demanding and often require long iron approaches.  Last time out I hit four 3-irons on the first four holes.  It’s one of those stretches that if you start 3-over after four holes, you are playing fine.  Today it was 3-iron, 7-iron (downwind) from heavy rough, 3-iron, and another 3-iron.  Before my round I warmed up poorly with my 3-iron, but my approach on number one was pure and settled eight feet from the flag.  The second on #3 was good but went into a green-side bunker and I saved par.  The third was an awful pull hook (my big miss) and I made a lucky par out of some gnarly green-side rough.  On holes 5 and 6, I hit two stunning short iron shots that yielded a par and a birdie.  I was thrilled and it seemed I had it solved, but the problem was that I was playing golf swing and not golf.  The roof finally caved in on #8 after I laid the sod over a pitching wedge from the middle of the fairway.

This has happened before after taking a lesson; it’s always been a full swing lesson, and I’m always thinking too much.  I guess I was encouraged after the easy success of the putting lesson.

My favorite thing in golf is to play.  Next favorite is to take lessons, and least favorite is to practice.  But I know I need practice on this one and will get out to the range a couple times before next weekend’s round.  What has been your experience playing after a lesson?

Stay tuned: course review is coming from next weekend’s venue:  The Links at Gettysburg!

Play well!

Lesson Nugget: Keep The Triangle

What I absolutely love about my instructor is that he’s half swing coach and half psychologist, and is very adept at both.  The subject of changing swing thoughts came up during yesterday’s lesson.  I had mentioned that during a late fall round last year, I had “found something” on the front nine and started pounding my driver and nutting my irons the rest of the game.  But when I tried the same thought the next day, I couldn’t hit a thing.  I know, I know, this has happened to everyone who’s ever played the game and is one of the great wonders of the world, but his reply was simple and correct.  “You need to have a series of swing thoughts that work, and be willing to change.  The quicker you can recognize it’s not working, and settle on one that is, the better you will play.”

I have been seeing the left side of the golf course recently.  To diagnose, he had me hit some shots and took some swing video and identified the issue as a quick wrist flip at the contact point which was caused by under rotating my upper body.  This results in a pull or worst case, a smother hook.  Nothing new for me, and it’s funny how your faults keep reverting to your habits learned over the decades.

Last season was a breakthrough for my ball striking, as I had taken several full swing lessons, and made great progress.  But I reminded him how difficult it was to play with all these mechanical thoughts.  My requirement for today’s lesson was to eliminate this Lou Groza drop kick, and keep it simple.  We set to work to find a trigger to get me to rotate my upper body and pull my hands through the hitting zone.  Over the next hour we worked the following:

  1. Fire the right shoulder at the ball: Not very successful
  2. Pull the grip down to the ball: Moderately successful
  3. Slow the tempo a bit and try to hit a slight push: Very successful

I was pleased with the results of #3 but images of tee shots that are tighter than a gnat’s rear end started creeping into my mind, with TPC of Myrtle Beach at the forefront.  I told him I didn’t think this would work on the course because I needed to be thinking about hitting my ball at the target and not away from the target.  I also mentioned that I had been swinging a club in my back yard in the evenings and still didn’t feel connected because I was chicken-winging my left elbow on the follow through.  When I said that, he suggested I, “keep the triangle on the follow through.”  The triangle is the shape your fully extended arms make with your chest.  If I did that, it would be, “impossible to hook the ball.”

For the rest of the lesson and a half hour afterwards, I hit balls with this very simple image in my mind: “Finish like Tommy Fleetwood.”  If you watch him, he’s got that sawed off fully extended finish.  It feels like everything he hits is a punch shot.  I tried this with great success and noticed my weight had fully moved to the outside of my left foot and I was in balance at the finish.

Here’s a great photo of Alvaro Quiros maintaining his triangle.  If I can get here, I can play.

Photo from Golftoday

Right now, this feels a little unnatural but is easy to implement because it’s simple.  My plan is to use #3 above when this swing thought no longer works, and try to find a third that will provide a go-to rotation of on course adjustments.

Do you have a rotation of swing thoughts that work?  Please share if you do!

Play well.

 

 

 

 

The Fix Becomes The Fault

From swingstation.com

Have you ever tried to change something in your golf swing and experienced profound rapid success?  And then you tried the exact same move the next day only to have nothing work?

The following story is true. . .

On Thursday of last week, I reviewed five years of down the line swing videos of myself.  Of course, I was looking for a swing key that would carry me the next three days on my golf trip to the eastern shore.  What’s amazing is that over the five years, I worked on many parts of my swing and implemented many changes, but my move looked strikingly similar in each video.  With the slight exception of my most recent video, I tended to lift my head up about three inches on the backswing and then move about three inches backward during the downswing.  My “reverse L” was clearly causing me to lose my spine angle.  How could anyone hit the ball correctly with this much head movement?  So, to remedy, instead of one swing key, I picked two.  I would point my left shoulder at the ball on the backswing (to keep my head from rising) and sit into my left glute on the downswing (to start the swing from the ground up and maintain my posture).

During my pre-round warm up on Friday at Hog Neck, I was hitting big push cuts with this move, so I did what any reasonable fellow would do and discarded my range session swings as aberrations.  On the first tee, I blew a big push cut into the woods and was fortunate to make bogey.  I scraped a 2-over front side together on the sheer luck of great putting, all the while struggling with these two moves.  On the back side, I jettisoned the sit down move and just focused on “left shoulder down” and began pounding my driver and nutting irons dead at flags.  THE MAGIC MOVE HAD ARRIVED!!!  After finishing the inward half at 1-under, I was extremely pumped to play on day two.

Ever fill up a balloon and let it fly around the room making funny noises until empty?  Armed with “left shoulder down” on Saturday at Eagles Landing, I pumped up and nailed my first three drives, but quickly evolved into a fluttering mess of pull cuts, pop-ups, and chunked irons.  What happened?  After 18 holes, I looked and felt like that spent balloon.

At Heritage Shores on Sunday, I started with nothing but weak pull cuts off the tee and fat irons.  After one particular chunk with a gap wedge from 98 yards that threw a divot almost 45 degrees to the left, I heel spanked a driver on the next tee, and decided something was fundamentally wrong with my swing, but I couldn’t identify.  The only thing I felt was unathletic.  So, the change I made was to get in a more athletic position at address and forget left shoulder down.  I simply flexed my knees a bit more and for the last seven holes was rifling my driver and hitting the irons spot on.  What happened here?

In retrospect, when I bent my knees, I re-engaged my spine angle.  Just try this and see if you don’t feel some tension return to your lower back.  Left shoulder down had become left hip in and a reverse pivot.  GAWD this game will drive you nuts!!!

So now I am filled with hope that this latest correction is the one.  I should probably go back to my instructor for some serious correction but it’s getting late in the season.  We’ll see what happens after tomorrow evening’s range session.

Has your fix ever become the fault?

Play well.

 

Pro vs. Amateur: A Swing Apart?

Photo from PGATour.com

Pros can bomb the crap out of a golf ball.  But what is the main difference between a pro’s swing and an amateur’s that creates the huge distance advantage?  Careful not to get caught up in the comparison of a pro’s game or career, just the swing.  The answer is the muscle groups that the pro uses and the sequence they are used in.

A pro is typically younger, has a full time swing coach, has a mental coach, has as much free customized equipment as he/she needs, has access to fitness and workout facilities, eats a very healthy diet, and dedicates their life to improving golf performance.  As amateurs, we can partially emulate but cannot compete.  We buy the same brands, we have access to some of the same top quality instruction via golf schools or on-line learning materials, and sometimes we can even play the same courses.  However, we all have the same muscles in our bodies – can we get closer?  What is the pro doing different?

To illustrate, consider a sliding swing scale.  On the left at 0% is our average 35-handicap who’s self taught, been playing for years, and sprays the countryside.  On the right at 100% is Dustin Johnson, the best ball striker on the planet.  The rest of us fall in between somewhere.  Typically, the more correct instruction you’ve had at an early age, the higher on the scale you will be.  The main difference is that Johnson is starting his downswing from the ground up by turning and clearing his hips, which pull his upper body and hands through the hitting zone.  His hands are passive.  His grip, and club face react to the power generated by his big muscles.  Watch when he prepares to hit a drive.  See how softly he grips the club.  Amateurs, on the other hand, grip it way too tight, and typically feature their hands and arms (small muscles) to start the downswing.  This fails to leverage power available to them from their torso and causes a lot of pulling and slicing.  You and I will never hit it like Dustin Johnson, but learning to start the downswing with your big muscles will help you get the club on a proper swing path and add power and accuracy to your ball striking.  See the photo of DJ above.  Can you get your hips into that open position at impact?  That’s the key!

I was instructed at an early age to try and time my strike of the ball with my wrists and hands.  Consequently, my big miss is a pull hook and I am working with my instructor to correct this habit after 40 years.  I’m estimating it will take a full season to make the change but I can see it starting to work!

Where are you on the sliding scale?  Any chance you can move in Dustin’s direction?

Play well!

 

Instruction Without Practice Is Like Reading the Comics

Whether it’s golf, computer programming, or learning to drive a car, anytime you try to acquire a new skill, you’ll need to practice.  Instruction without practice is like reading the comics.  You enjoy it at the time, but don’t retain much in the form of long term benefit.  If you’re a dedicated player, one of the great things about taking a series of golf lessons is that it forces you into beneficial regular practice.  As I re-engage in regular practice, I’m reminded of a few pointers to make the best use of your time.

  1. Find a quiet isolated spot; it improves concentration.  Approach like Vijay Singh.  He has it right when he sets up alone down at the end of the driving range.  Unless you’re the type who could do your homework with the TV blaring, you’re better off in solitary.  Hitting balls at Top Golf with your friends or on the simulator at Dave and Busters is fun but is not practice.  Nor is working one stall over from the dad trying to give his young son well-meaning but awful swing advice.  Focus on your task at hand.
  2.  Move slowly through your basket of balls.  Ever see the range rat raking ball after ball, never changing clubs, and hitting one every 15 seconds – usually with the driver?  Don’t be that guy.  If you want a cardio workout, go to the gym.  Warm up slowly and start with a wedge, making small swings.  Resist the temptation to quickly hit another ball after a bad shot.  Think through your miss and attempted correction.  Rushing will only get you tired and frustrated.
  3. Bring your rangefinder and use it.  Hit at specific targets and change them often; it will help you to concentrate and stay fresh.  This one is difficult because you’re most likely working on swing mechanics, but never forget golf is a target-oriented game.  Often, if your swing is somewhat grooved, just focusing on the target will free your body from your mind and allow you to perform your best.
  4. When you finish full swing practice, go putt for 20-30 minutes.  Putting is a simple repeated stroke that doesn’t require much physical effort.  It’s a wonderful way to cool down and is also 40% of the shots you’ll take during a normal round.  Draining putts is always beneficial to your game.  If your range session was less than satisfactory, it can take the edge off and remind you that getting the ball in the hole is the objective of all your hard work.  Don’t confuse putting after full swing with short game practice.  This putting is just about seeing the ball go in the hole.  Short game practice (chipping, pitching, putting, and bunker play) should have a completely different time block allocated, and is often more time consuming than full swing.
  5. Keep playing golf – it’s important to stay engaged with the objectives of the game.  Shooting at targets, getting rewarded for good shots and penalized for bad, and working on your course management.  While you’re trying to make swing changes, this can be very difficult.  You need to persevere and not beat yourself up over some bad scores.  Know that the more you play AND practice together, it will elevate your overall performance.  Plus, when you pull off those shots you’ve been working on during practice, it’s a great feeling.

There you have it.  These tips are working for me and I hope they do for you.  Right now, I’m off to the practice tee.

Play well!

Update After Lesson #2

Today I took the second in a series of four full swing lessons.  In lesson #1 I told my instructor my goal was to average more than 10 GIR per round this season.  I have been stuck between 8 and 9 for the last seven straight years.  10+ should improve my proximity, provide more birdie looks, and help lower my scores.  Lesson #1 was difficult because we focused  on trying to break a bad habit.  I played the day after lesson #1 and you can imagine the result – two GIR.  I played a week later after some practice and saw some positives with my driving and fairway woods, but struggled with my irons and wedge play.  Still, I managed to hit seven greens.

Lesson #2 was much better.  I latched onto a swing key after my instructor manipulated my hands where he wanted me at the top of my back swing.  This allowed me to only think of one thought during the swing and helped immensely.  I was probably picking up an additional 10 yards with my 8-iron and hitting about 80% of them within my target range (10 feet to the right or left of the flag).  Then we moved to partial wedge shots with the new change.  The difference was weird at first but significant.  I tried to hit 40 yard pitches with my 56 but hit it so solidly that I couldn’t keep it under 60 yards.  Then I shortened my back swing so I almost felt like it was a long chip, accelerated through the ball and managed to control the distance better.  My contact was consistent and much improved.  He told me I hit a lot of good shots and I left the golf course pumped.

Then I made a mistake.  I went out after lunch for some more practice with the intention of cementing the lessons into memory and didn’t hit nearly as well.  I failed to realize how gassed I was from the lesson because I had warmed up for a half hour and the lesson took an hour. I had hit the equivalent of an extra large bucket of balls.  So I didn’t even try to finish up and went and hit some putts for half an hour.  You have to know your limitations!

I’m playing again tomorrow and am hoping to see additional improvement, especially with the short irons and wedges.  Play well if you are too!

The Best Golf Lesson Ever!

It was Saturday, June 5th and I was at True Blue in Myrtle Beach, and I could not make solid contact on the driving range while warming up for my round.  I thought I was simply gassed from playing so much golf on the trip but that was not the case.  Two weeks later on June 19, I had an awful time trying to hold my swing together during a round at Poolesville.  My poor strikes were starting to put pressure on the other parts of my game and my attitude soured.  Was I was facing mid-season burnout?  The next weekend, I practiced down in Delaware and took swing video during a rough ball striking session.  I spotted several things I didn’t like and tried to implement fixes but nothing worked.  Last Wednesday was the final straw.  I went to my school field with a bag shag and a sand wedge and discovered I could not advance the ball 70 yards.  I left despondent.  The next morning I called for a lesson with Justin Keith, the PGA pro at Falls Road Golf Course in Potomac, MD.

The lesson:

I arrived at the course and warmed up for 10 minutes.  On the five minute ride to the lesson tee, Justin took my history and golf vital signs.  I didn’t reveal I was a mental basket case, just that for the last seven years, I’d averaged 8 GIR per round and wanted to improve the consistency of my ball striking.  He asked if I had taken any recent lessons or been working on anything in particular.  I told him my last lesson was a few years ago where it was pointed out that I lose my spine angle on the downswing, and that the fault would be a very hard to correct.  Essentially, it was the source of my inconsistency.  He understood and we went to work.

He had me hit half a dozen 7-irons and videoed my last swing on his tablet.  We sat down in the cart and reviewed my swing.  I had two problems.  One was a cupped left wrist at the top of my back swing which was getting me off plane.  The second, which was likely a result of the first, was a downswing initiated with my hands instead of my body.  This was the reason I was pull hooking long irons, hitting wedges fat, and push cutting everything else.   He pointed out that in my follow through, I had a big chicken wing with my left elbow, and that was an indicator that I hadn’t rotated through the ball but had released early.  He also thought that I’ve been able to maintain a 5-handicap with this move because I could time my down swing well enough to square the club face at the impact.  But when my timing was off, I had no chance.

Then we worked for a half hour just hitting nine-o-clock to three-o-clock punch shots with my 7 and 5-irons.  On my back swing, he had me flatten out the back of my left wrist using Dustin Johnson as a mental image.  DJ bows his wrist more than anyone, but this thought worked great.  On the down swing I worked to initiate the move with a bump of my left hip.  On the follow through, he told me to cut it off halfway, with both my arms fully extended and elbows close together (to get rid of that chicken wing).  This was hard and felt very weird at first, but after a few swings I noticed that when I executed I had easily maintained my spine angle without even trying.  The thought of the spine angle fix as an artifact of the other changes filled me with tremendous hope and enthusiasm.

At the conclusion, Justin videoed my last swing and we went back to the cart to view.  He showed me the correction I had implemented along with a down the line shot of Hunter Mahan in his follow through, and how I had gotten much closer to the ideal position.  I thanked Justin and with my head full of positions and excitement, went home for lunch.

Here’s a picture of my follow through with a 6-iron.  Notice the chicken wing left elbow:

Chicken Wing Follow Through

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s a picture of Hunter Mahan down the line with a 5-iron.  Notice how he’s fully extended his arms and how his elbows are close together and how he’s retained his spine angle.  This is the image I’m working to get to:

Hunter Mahan Down The Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementing the change:

After lunch I went out to my course for a large bucket of 7-iron punch shots, just trying to get the feeling of the new positions and to initiate the downswing with my body.  The contact was excellent and the ball flight lower than normal but very straight and controlled.  I finished with a few sand wedges and discovered I had regained 15 yards of distance that had mysteriously disappeared a few years ago.  The only issue was that all this work had been done off a mat.

The next day, I headed out to Blue Mash for an extended practice session off the turf.  My first indicator of progress was that my divots were flying straight with the gap wedge and 7-iron.  Previously even well struck shots had my divots flying left with that early release.  Again, contact was good, and I mixed in some 4-irons.  Later I added some 3WDs and a few drivers.  Towards the end of the session I started to hit some loose shots with the 3WD and driver, but figured I may have been getting tired since I had hit the equivalent of six buckets of balls in the last two days.  So I rested the next few days and went to work 🙂

Thursday after work I hit a bucket off the mat and received excellent feedback with the gap wedge and 7-iron and I began to experiment with different ball positions and hitting knock-down shots.  I was pleased that I could now control trajectory better by moving the ball back or forward and rely on maintaining  good contact.

On the course:

A special shout out goes to The Grateful Golfer.  Jim had recommended that during my learning, I mix in 9-hole rounds of play without keeping score.  What an excellent idea!  I did that yesterday on my executive nine and was pleased with the results.  While shooting at actual targets, of my 11 full swings I only missed one.  It was the old swing, but the number of new good ones was very satisfactory.  I hit 7 greens and a fringe and the single I joined up with was impressed enough to ask for the name of my teaching pro.

What’s next:

The back swing position is starting to feel natural but the down swing and follow through need more reps.  I have also not hit a driver on the course yet.  I could probably play real golf with this move if I had to but will not rush it and will use the balance of July to keep working the move and getting comfortable with the driver.  Hopefully my play will take off in August.

A special thanks goes to Justin Keith.  In the past, I’ve taken a lot of golf lessons.  Some good, some mediocre, some poor.  This was the simplest most productive, and well timed instruction I’ve ever had.  If you are in the DMV and need help with your golf game, call Justin at 301-299-5156 or email him at jkeith@mcggolf.com Thanks Justin!

Play well everyone.

The Biggest Golf Loser

Time to try a new game; The Biggest Golf Loser.  This is a game where I try and lose as many bad habits with my golf swing as possible.  A little background:  For the last seven years, I have averaged between 8 and 9 GIR per round.  Amazingly consistent but amazingly mediocre.  This year is no different and I am right on the number at 8.32.  Recently I have been struggling even more with my iron game, so much to the point where I’ll have a shot of 100 yards from either the fairway or light rough and have no idea if I can hit the green.  This shot is a simple 3/4 gap wedge for me and is my bread and butter, my go-to play.

The trouble started at the tail end of my Myrtle Beach trip where I started either blowing these shots way right with a huge push cut, or hitting them fat.  Yesterday at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware I decided to work on my swing and had one of those range sessions that make you want to quit.  Oddly enough, I was piping my driver, but every iron in the bag was all over the place.  Just pure garbage.  Thank God for mobile phones, so I whipped out mine and shot the following video with a 6-iron.  WARNING:  Parental Guidance Is Strongly Advised.

The best part about this video is the swing of the lady in the background wearing the pink top.  Seriously, it’s a good thing that you can video yourself when you have no move and then compare your swing to a model.

Call me nuts but I used the Adam Scott wedge shot below as my measuring stick.  You’re probably thinking, “What’s this idiot thinking; he’s going to hit iron shots like Adam Scott?”  No, but I can see why my game is all over the place and the key in the Scott video is the lack of moving parts.

In my video, I am setting up poorly, with my weight too far back.  On my back swing, I rise up and keep the club moving back with my arms long after I’ve finished my shoulder turn.  Then I transition to my downswing with an upper body lateral move to the target and release the club way too early.  Where this garbage came from I’ll never know, but that’s golf.

In the Scott video, notice how restricted his back swing is and how little his head moves as he transitions.  He fully rotates through the ball, even though it’s just a wedge shot, and you can see both his shoulder blades on his follow through.  I cannot get to this position without putting myself in traction, but if I focus on fully turning through the ball, I might be able to solve for that early release.

So much to work on but where to start?  Actually, I’ve started today by carefully working on a more restricted back swing and to keep my head level.  I’ve decided not to play for the next three weeks while I work on some corrections and allow them to sink in without the pressure of scoring.

Do you see anything else in this pretzel factory or do you think I have a handle on it?  Hope you are hitting it better than me right now.  Play well!

Dangers of Copying a Pro’s Swing

Adam Scott at the top Photo at Youtube.com
Adam Scott at the top
Photo at Youtube.com

Here we are in the dead of winter and I am fighting the irresistible urge to tinker with my golf swing.  Last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I spent two hours on the range and had a real good opening session.  Probably too good, which is why I’m feeling greedy.  If you are like me, the reason we do this is because of the safety factor of winter.  You can make minor tweaks or wholesale changes during periods of inactivity without suffering the consequences of a slump-inducing fix.  I know it’s a bad idea and still do it.  Do you as well?

Two years ago, I became infatuated with Adam Scott’s golf swing and tried to impart his down the line setup and move through the ball.  I loved the way he kept his spine angle rock solid and the way he torqued against his very stable lower body, and modeled it for myself over the winter.  Problem is this 54-year old bag of bones has nothing in common with Adam Scott.  The wholesale changes fell apart with the first ball struck in anger.

The modern day swings of players like Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson, are all modeled off Tiger Woods and are not meant to be copied by desk jockeys.  Each has clearly spent many hours in the gym, and if you watch the follow through with their driver swings, each gets tremendous body rotation and the shaft points towards the target at finish.  Is the human back designed to undergo this much rotational stress over a protracted period?  I’m left to think that it’s not and players with a more upright swing like Phil Mickelson are doing their backs a favor.  Phil has his own physical issues, but I suspect lower back pain is not one of them.  Only one guy on the Senior Tour torques his body even close to these guys and that is Fred Couples.  Most others have more of a classic restricted finish and are still playing into their 50s.  Of course, Freddy’s back issues are well known and I can’t help but wonder, beautiful tempo aside, if the tremendous rotation he gets is responsible.

Adam Scott follow through Photo by ESPN
Adam Scott follow through
Photo by ESPN

So I smartly re-read the Grateful Golfer’s post on The Best Golf Swings Ever, where he reminded us that despite the number of writings and videos available on the swings of the greatest professionals of all time, the swing we should be working on is our own.  This is great advice and would add that you copy the visualization, pre-shot routines, and mental preparation of the top pros, but when it comes to swing mechanics, focus on improving your own technique.

So it’s off to go pump some 12 oz curls old style.  See you in the gym.

2015 Golf Goals

TargetOne of the great artifacts from this off season has been the awesome dialog from the blogging community regarding lessons learned from the previous year, and the ideas being shared for improvement in 2015.  A special thanks to  Vet4golfing51, The Grateful Golfer, and TheBirdieHunt for their thoughtful feedback and willingness to dialog new thoughts and observations.  I feel like a kid at Christmas with all these goodies to immerse in, and then step back and choose a favorite or two to work with.

A few overarching themes are taking the lead when formulating an improvement plan for 2015.

  1. Get back to fundamentals
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Be willing to let your golf swing come to you rather than trying to force one.

All worthy endeavors, but I need to get a little more specific to implement.  As most of you know, I’m a stickler for measurement, statistics, and planning.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in my anal retentiveness, I’ve charted every practice session I’ve had since 2007 with notes and a letter grade.  That’s 320 individual events with feedback on full swing, short game, and putting.  I’ve also got playing notes from every one of my 35+ rounds per year for the last eight years.  With all this great data, I decided to mine it and look for what consistently worked in the past.  I would then leverage just a few ideas for 2015  and keep it as simple as possible.

Method:  The approach was to filter on only practice sessions with a grade of A or A-minus and ignore everything else.  That left 40 of the 320 to work with.  Then I filtered on playing notes for only rounds considered excellent (3-over par or better), and tried to observe some commonality.  Three themes kept repeating themselves (two full swing and one short game).  On the full swing, I need to shorten my back swing.  This makes sense because it’s easier to maintain my spine angle with a shorter back swing and some of my best ball striking days were using this swing thought.  I know from film study that losing my spine angle is the root of all evil.  Second, I need to take the club back on more of an outside path.  Getting it too far inside and setting it promotes an over the top move and the dreaded dead pull.  On the short game, I simply need to focus on making more of a turn and pivot on all shots.  Treat it like the mini-swing that it is and not just an arm action.  That’s it.  I will focus on those three during practice and hopefully think “target” on the course and trust that my preparation will transition.

Metrics:  No plan is complete without the ability to measure yourself.  You need achievable goals but targets that are not easy to reach.  Hitting a goal should illicit a feeling of accomplishment.  Such was the case in 2014 when I missed on all my KPIs but not by much.  As with most golfers, the GIR is the top performance indicator.  If I can stick to my practice plan, I expect to average 10 GIR per round ( up from 8.47).  If my ball striking improves to 10 greens per round, my secondary goals of lowering stroke average to 78.5 from 79.97 should be achievable.  I’m not setting a putts per round target this year because an increase in GIRs may be accompanied by a higher number of total putts because of fewer up and down opportunities.  Putts per green in regulation would feel like a better KPI, but I’m not interested in going that deep so I’ll keep it at GIR and scoring average.

There you have it.  What are your thoughts about this approach?  Would you do anything different?  Do you have targets for 2015?

Eliminating My Big Miss – The Hank Haney Experiment

I am 1,100 swings into my Hank Haney experiment.  To review, Haney recommends for the time challenged golfer, to take 100 practice swings per day in your back yard (merely a 15 minute time commitment).  In week one I took the first 500 with a 5-iron.  In week two, I split the balance between a 5-iron and driver.  The last couple of sessions I have felt particularly strong and enjoyed some excellent rhythm and a confidence boost.

Yesterday, I changed things up and went to the range in the afternoon to see actual ball flight with the 5-iron and driver.  Smother hooking 40 balls will humbly reminded you why golf is such a damn hard game.  Just when I thought I was on to something good the pendulum of bad habits swung in my direction.  I left the practice tee discouraged but knew that I had a round to play the next day, and figured I’d better work some short game.  I finished up with a pretty good session on the practice putting green.

Now I am one of those players who generally plays like he practices, and the prospect of teeing it up a day after facing down a bucket full of Big Misses felt like crossing the U-boat infested Atlantic Ocean in an unarmed merchant ship.  I was dreading the surfacing of the Big Miss and can’t remember being less unenthusiastic about the prospects of playing a weekend round of golf.

I arrived at the course early this morning and headed immediately to the range, and figured it’s best to face your fears head on.  The warm-up was pretty good and I maybe saw five Big Misses out of 40 swings; a much smaller percentage, but just enough to keep the threat lurking.  Incidentally, I was hit by this same swing malfunction about a month ago in another pre-round warm-up, but a playing partner spotted my physical error and helped me with a band-aid fix before play, so I was armed with this little bit of knowledge.

I piped my tee shot on #1 but The Big Miss surfaced on the #2 tee shot.  Somehow I managed to save bogey and then it mysteriously disappeared and I played the rest of the front nine and the first two holes on the back striking it solid and straight.  Then BAM!  Four Big Misses in a row led to two straight double bogeys (the second of which was nearly a triple), and I though I was done for the day.  I stabilized with the band-aid and managed to birdie #16 and #17 with some solid swings and limped in without killing anyone, and carded a six-over 77.  Despite the strong finish, I am questioning the wisdom of the daily practice swings.  Should I continue if there’s a chance that I’m practicing a mechanical fault with no ball flight feedback?   I did hit 11 GIR last weekend and 12 in today’s round, which is over my season average of eight.  Maybe it’s working and I can’t see the forest of incremental progress from the trees?

Any thoughts or recommendations to stay the course or abandon for something else?

Work Your Golf Game Like You Tie Your Shoes

From kidspot.com
From kidspot.com

Readers of this page know that I have been struggling recently with my golf-life balance and trying to find the time to get enough play and practice to maintain my effectiveness.  I had a thought about a month ago; that to give myself a chance, I needed to make golf more of a second nature activity, like tying your shoes.  After all, how often do we tie our shoes, maybe twice a day?  Does anyone screw up tying their shoes?  No.  Does anyone have to think about how to tie their shoes?  No.  Like golf, it’s a learned activity, and while we may have spent a few hours practicing while we were very young, we dedicate merely seconds per day and execute flawlessly every time.  If only golf were so easy.

The Plan:  A week before I left for Myrtle Beach, and every day in the two weeks since I have returned, I’ve made sure to chip and putt for just 15-20 minutes at a golf course on my way home during the evening commute.  My family hardly misses me.  In the two weeks that I’ve been back, I’ve only played nine holes twice, and will attempt 18 tomorrow, but the return on these mini time investments has been big.  I’m very comfortable over any short game shot and am executing fearlessly.  More importantly, I’m not thinking about the shot or putt, just feeling it during the rehearsal strokes and pulling the trigger.  The metrics have been good as well.  I’ve never chipped and pitched on the Myrtle trip so effectively and today during my 9-hole round was 3 for 3 on up and downs.

The mechanics of the daily routine.  I arrive at the course and select one club to work with and three balls.  Vary the club daily but make sure to putt at least every third day.  I also put a tee in my pocket in the event that all the holes on the practice green are occupied and I need to set up my own target.  Only practice for the prescribed time and focus intently on every shot; make every precious second count.  The short duration makes concentration easy and the only distraction I deal with is the occasional pack of children getting themselves ready for their twilight nine-hole event.

So you say, “Brian, what does this do for your ball striking?”  Nothing, except fill me with confidence that if I miss the green, I’ve got a good shot at saving par.  As a result, I’m more relaxed on the full swings.

Remember, there are no pictures on the scorecard, and everyone doesn’t need 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient, so try working your short game in these little micro-bursts and see if this doesn’t work for you as well.  Anyone out there had any success with this method?  Good luck if you try!

 

 

Trying To Golf Like a Professional Stock Picker

DowEver wonder why your golf scores look like the monthly trend charts for the Dow Jones Industrial?  Why can’t you build any consistency into your game?

Admittedly, it’s early in the 2014 season and my scores to date (92, 77, 78, 83) are a small sample size, but the inconsistency has me concerned.  I thought to stabilize and hopefully see steady improvement from week-to-week, I’d rethink my approach to work more like a professional trader on Wall Street.  In an attempt to remove the impact of market fluctuations on my portfolio, I will employ some technical analysis, which simply defined is using the examination of critical pieces of past performance data in an attempt to predict future behavior.  In my case, I’m going to attempt to drive performance instead of predict it.  Good luck to me.

Tomorrow, I play at Poolesville, the site of the ugly opening day debacle.  I reviewed performance notes I’ve kept on all the rounds played at Poolesville since 2010 and picked up three trends.

  1. Ball striking was inconsistent especially off the tee which repeatedly had me playing out of trouble, and didn’t improve until mid to late round when I benched my driver.  Last week I wrote about the great experiment I was considering with driver benching on par-5 holes, and it starts tomorrow.  Driver is out of the bag and replaced with a 5WD.
  2. On good ball striking days, I noticed a tight connection between arms and torso and my pre-round full swing practice usually included focus on making a shorter back swing.  When I try to make too full of a turn, my arms continue back after my shoulder turn is complete causing me to come up and out of my spine angle and hit loose shots.  Today’s practice will be a bucket full of 3/4 pitching wedges to get the feel of a tight connection.
  3. Poolesville’s greens are undulating and fast.  When I opened my stance with the putter somehow my feel for distance greatly improved and I putted well.  Not sure why this was the case but an open stance is in the game plan.

After reviewing data from Poolesville, what irks me is that I usually found solutions (adjustments) late in my rounds after my mistakes had impacted my score.  Hopefully by adding in what’s worked during past practice and play, before I start, I’ll have a more enjoyable experience.  Maybe tomorrow is the start of a long bull run and a look at more opportunities from the fairway!  Anyone ever tried this approach out there?

 

The Great Course Management Experiment

ideaAdmittedly, I am one of those golfers who gains enjoyment from turning myself into a bit of a test laboratory on the golf course.  What fun it is to hypothesize on a mental or physical problem and go test it out using yourself as the guinea pig.  Vet4golfing51 seems very adept at this with his work on the mind-body connection, and I thought I’d give it a try.  I’ve been developing an idea for better scoring and I wanted to try it out on my readers before putting into play.

The experiment is in course management on par-5 holes.  Normally, the majority of alpha males step to the tee on a par-5 and immediately pull driver.  Summoning every ounce of  strength, their effort usually culminates in a massive blow with the ball traveling a long way but not necessarily in the direction desired.  My thought was to try like heck to stay out of trouble on the tee shots which should open up easy birdie opportunities and cut down on the big numbers.  When you hit a fairway bunker or put it in the woods or a hazard, you are most surly looking at bogey or double on the par-5 because of the remaining length you have to cover to make up.  And nothing feels worse than having to scramble on a par-5.

The experiment is to spend the entire week in early June on my Myrtle Beach trip hitting nothing but 3WD on every par-5 hole during the 216 hole golf-a-thon, then try to determine if stroke average improves as a result of keeping the ball in play.

The thought came to me after playing the par-5  17th at Northwest last Sunday.  I had been struggling with my ball striking through 11 holes and made the decision to bench the driver for the balance of the round.  #17 was playing 532 yards into a light breeze.  I made an aggressive pass with a 3WD off the tee and smartly placed one in the left side of the fairway.  Another solid 3WD had me at 109 yards where I hit a smooth pitching wedge pin high for a good look at birdie.  It seemed too easy, but easy is good!  Then I thought back to a 500 yard par-5 on my home course where I used to hit driver all the time and inevitably littered my scorecards with bogeys and doubles.  The last few years I always play it 3WD then 3-iron which leaves me about 100 yards and looking right down the throat of the flag stick.  Par or better is usually the result.

When you think about it, if average par-5s are 500-530 yards, and you can cover 200-230 with a 3WD tee shot, that leaves you with essentially a 300 yard par-4 hole; and who wouldn’t want that?  A long iron second puts me at 100-110 yards, which is my wheelhouse and most course architects don’t leave fairway bunkers back around 100 yards.  Here’s the post with my scoring stats from last year’s trip.  I’m hypothesizing that the scoring average will come down, as will the double bogey total.  The birdie number is more or less dependent on how well I’m putting, so no guarantees there, but the experiment is to eliminate the big numbers.  Driver will still be in play on the par-4s because length is critical, especially on the long ones.

What do you think of this approach?

A Picture Is Truly Worth a Thousand Words

I headed out to the driving range this morning determined to fix the mechanical fault in my golf swing that had created so much angst last weekend.  If you’ll recall, I wrote that last Saturday’s range session had left me with a bad case of the pulls and I was able to slap a partial band-aid on for the following day’s round.  Needless to say but I had completely taken the right side of the golf course out of play.

Armed with the same band-aid, today I proceeded to have one of those range sessions where everything was pure garbage.  These things occasionally happen and I had the common sense to immediately whip out my iPhone and grab some DTL video with my gap wedge, Driver, and 6-iron.  What I captured with the 6-iron was revealing.  See if you can spot the root cause of Mickey Mantle:

The video coupled with a review of a couple DTL setup shots from previous blog posts solved it.  Here is a shot from me last November at Baywood Greens when I was beginning to suffer a case of the pulls:

18th tee at Baywood Greens
18th tee at Baywood Greens

Now here’s a shot From Ross Bridge in October when I was hitting it good.  Spot the difference?

On the tee at the par-4 eighth hole.
On the tee at the par-4 eighth hole.

In the good shot, I’m very balanced at address and in the Baywood Greens shot, my weight has started to slip back toward my heels.  In today’s video, my weight is very much on my heels creating the insight path on the back swing and over the top move on the downswing.  A good move in golf is an athletic move and I was in a poor athletic position.  I could feel something wasn’t right but couldn’t nail it with out the visual.

What’s fascinating and frustrating are how these things keep creeping into my swing, but I understand that golf more than any other sport is a game of never ending adjustments.  Part of the fun and challenge is trying to bank a group of recognizable adjustments that you can call on in short order when something goes a kilter.  So, if you aren’t periodically filming your setup and swing you should be, and the more you can, the more you will learn, and the steadier you’ll play.

Can’t wait to battle test this tomorrow afternoon at Northwest.  Happy Easter everyone!

 

Slice Of Heaven – Corner Of Hell

heaven and hellQuick pop-survey:  How many of you have shanked your first five balls in a driving range session and left the facility feeling great about your game?

The marvelous thing about golf is that you can experience firsts at any age or stage and this was mine today.  I think ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth.”  Well my plan today was to leverage all the good swing habits I’d built through my off-season indoor workouts into some solid ball striking.  If five straight shanks to start your season don’t hit you in the mouth, nothing will, and I was lucky the pro didn’t throw me off the range before I put one in someone’s eye socket, but I managed to right the ship and here’s how.

Readers of this space know I’ve been experimenting with the Nine-Shot drill in an effort to add shots to my repertoire.  Admittedly, this is not an easy practice technique since it requires you to work the golf ball in both directions with multiple launch angles, all the while using a variety of clubs.  You must steel yourself to move onto the next shot when you mishit one and continue to focus patiently on ball flight.  This drill saved my range session and my discovery is important.

Normally during a bad range session, you end up trying too many fixes, usually out of frustration or desperation and hope to stumble upon the right one; we’ve all done it.  The beauty of the Nine-Shot is that you are focused on executing a shot with a particular shape and trajectory, not on mechanics.  However, to make the shots, you consciously alter your ball position, alignment, and swing path.  In the event that one of these fundamentals is the cause of your original fault, you are likely to stumble upon it simply executing the drill.  Today, I found that when I moved the ball position forward, my contact immediately improved and the shank move was gone.  Why?  Because the forward ball position changed the bottom of my swing arc and forced me to move a little weight backwards on my back-swing.  Yes, the shank move was being caused by a reverse pivot.  Where that came from I do not know, but once I identified, all sense of normalcy returned.

The “ah ha” moment happened when I left the course and realized that I had solved a serious swing flaw without even trying.  I’m confident that this drill has value and you should give it a try.  Yes it’s hard to do but the benefits are worth it.  I can’t wait to battle test it during a warm-up session before an actual round.  I suspect it’s a big confidence builder and confidence usually leads to a good day on the course.  Good luck if you try it!

Off-season Biodegradable Golf Practice

Hey gang, just wanted to post an idea for those of you who are getting antsy in the off-season, and need a convenient environmentally safe way to practice.  Ever worked on your swing hitting magnolia fruit?

Nature's golf balls
Nature’s golf balls

These are truly nature’s golf balls and the idea came to me a couple years ago after I had bought a hitting mat and Callaway driving net and became frustrated with the deployment.  I discovered the net was a pain to keep setting up and taking down, and it didn’t behave well on windy days.  Plus, when the ground froze, you couldn’t get the tie down metal stakes in.  Just a poor labor intensive solution.

I took a look around and realized I have fruit bearing trees in my yard, including several black walnuts and a 50-foot magnolia.

My magnolia tree
My magnolia tree

My magnolia doesn’t accent the property like the many on Magnolia Lane at Augusta, but it is a beauty and she drops fruit pods from October to December which I have harvested over the past few years.

If you’re like me, you often wonder what different objects would behave like when struck with a golf club, and maybe you have tested your ideas from time to time.  So I tried out these fruit pods and they work perfectly.  They come complete with a stem (tee) that dislodges on contact, and can be placed directly on the ground or fit neatly into a rubber tee on a driving range mat.  They weigh about the same as a tennis ball and are constructed solidly enough that they will not break when hit with a driver.  A well struck magnolia pod will fly about 75 yards and of course, will biodegrade over time so there is no clean-up.  Just find an open space and hammer away!  Here’s a demo:

Finally, a word of caution; black walnuts (green shell when they drop in the fall) explode upon contact despite their solid feel.  Avoid at all costs.  I hit one last year and after the disintegration, was covered with green juice that stained my clothes badly.  Maybe the nut from inside the shell would be a better play; I’ll try that next.

Black walnut fruit
Black walnut fruit

Try this out and I’ll bet the next time you’re in the produce aisle of your grocery store you’ll start viewing the spherical shaped fruit and nut offerings in a different light.  Good luck!