Category Archives: Cause & Effect

If You Don’t Want to Choke, EAT MORE !

I believe nutrition is the single most important factor that most golfers fail to consider when preparing for competition. The topic isn’t talked about much, and if something isn’t talked about, it’s not a priority. Well it should be, so let’s talk about it.

When I recruit a young man I spend a long time talking to him about all aspects of his game. We talk about putting, driving, iron play, etc. We also talk about how he plays, what he thinks about while playing, what usually happens when he plays well and what goes wrong when he plays poorly. When he plays poorly many times he explains the situation like this:  The round starts out very well, then about the 14th hole everything begins to unravel. The young man doesn’t really know why, he just knows that he chokes at the end of rounds—usually in tournaments.

scorecard1The first thing I ask is, “How much do you eat out there?”  The answer I usually get is either, “Nothing”, or “I had a pack of crackers during the round.” I hope to God that I don’t hear, “I had a hot dog at the turn.” That one drives me nuts.

I then ask, Do you know how many calories your body burns during a round of golf when you walk?

At this point I get either silence or a shrug. They usually have no idea.

Well, for all of you out there, the answer is right around 2000! That’s almost a days worth of calories!  I know, right? Surprised?

The reason he finished poorly is pretty obvious to me. He simply ran out of fuel.

Almost every golfer that I’ve ever coached prior to their experience with me operated at what I call a Calorie Deficit. I have discovered that teaching a player to eat may be just as important as teaching them the swing.

PrintYoung people are calorie burning machines. I know very few moms who have sons that don’t eat constantly and in great quantities. Yet these same young men go to the course to play or compete and do so with no food in their bag and by the time they have hit balls and played, they will have gone six hours without eating, maybe more. I ask them, “Aside from sleeping do you ever go 6 hours without eating?” Of course not. Yet while doing an athletic activity they starve themselves of the fuel they need to compete at a high level! This makes no sense.

Let’s say you were going on a trip in a car. One of the first things you would ask yourself is, “Do I have enough fuel to get me where I want to go?” The same question needs to be asked prior to a round of golf or even more importantly, a round of tournament golf.

One of the biggest reasons golfers “choke” stems from a lack of food in their belly. Simple as that.

When you lack fuel it not only affects your energy level (blood sugar) but it also affects your ability to make sound decisions. The brain needs fuel just as much as the body in order to operate at an effective level.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying—don’t go and pound down 2000 calories prior to your round. That would be equally disastrous!

foodMy golfers always eat a ton of healthy snacks while on the course. This always comes as a shock to my freshman. Most aren’t used to eating at all. As I tell them, “you’re not eating because you are hungry, you are eating to maintain your optimum performance level. If you wait until you are hungry to eat, it’s too late. Chances are we’ve already lost strokes out there.”

When we compete we eat something every 2 to 3 holes, but never garbage! (hot dogs, hamburgers, candy bars, chips, sodas, etc.) Those items are loaded with fat and will cause your blood sugar to spike and then dive. Eat things that will help you perform like the athlete you are! You want to maintain a consistent blood sugar level. My team eats apples, bananas, nuts (excellent) beef jerky, any dried fruit like raisins, trail mix, and a good energy bar like a Cliff Bar or something.

A few years ago I had a golfer from England named Tom. We discovered he played his best when he ate 6 apples a round. I called him Apple Tom. He would eat an apple every 3 holes. He won a lot of college events and became an All-America.

During your round you will need to consume 2000 calories to match what your body will burn.

This is one of the most important lessons my golfers learn from me their first year. When they go home for the summer and play in their local events, state amateurs or national events I usually get a call after the tournament and hear stories about their successes not failures.

I like happy endings.

Happy 80th Dad!

Wind + Machismo = High Scores

As a coach I observe a lot of golf. I observe much more than I play. As I study golfers, I notice tendencies in individuals, teams, demographics, whatever. After years of observation coaches develop a sort of sixth sense. I now have the ability to see into the future. I can see the mistakes that golfers are going make before they happen. As a result, watching golf can be a very sad and predictable affair for me. In this lesson I am going to speak of one of the most frustrating miscalculations that I see. It involves playing in windy conditions.

Here’s the scenario:

Lets say Joe Golfer shows up at the course to play, and today it’s gonna’ be windy — a constant 20 mile per hour wind. He gets to the first tee and the hole is playing straight downwind. Joe hits a much longer drive than usual, because the wind is pumping at his back. Because of the wind he then hits 2 clubs less than normal into the green on his approach shot. The next hole comes back in the opposite direction, with the wind straight into his face. He hits his drive solidly but ends up noticeably shorter than normal. He can feel the force of the wind on his face but on the approach shot he only takes 1 extra club into the wind. Of course his approach comes well short of the green and he is standing in the fairway with his hat off scratching his head wondering how in the world, because he is so manly, the shot could have come up so short. I’ve seen it a million times. This is one of the main reasons I see scores balloon on windy days.

Pop Quiz: If 20 mph tailwind = 20 more yards of distance then when does 20 mph of headwind = 10 yards less distance?

a) always

b) after 3 Red Bulls

c) never

I’ll wait while you think about it………..

The correct answer is c) never.

The force of the wind is EQUAL whether it’s in your face or at your back.

I don’t know if it’s ego or disbelief or what, but most golfers can’t find it in themselves to take enough club into the wind, and it costs them a ton of strokes. Here’s why:

Think of the course architecture of your home golf course. Green complexes are usually designed to have most of the trouble (bunkering and ponds) just short of the green or in the first third of the green.

Constantly coming up short puts tremendous pressure on your chipping, pitching and putting. The last thing you want to do on a windy day is put extra pressure on your putting. If you are always putting from 6-10 feet for par or bogie when the wind is blowing you’ll quickly find yourself losing strokes, energy and the ability to stay focused.

So, here’s the lesson: If you are hitting 2 clubs less downwind, you’ll also need to hit 2 clubs more when you are hitting into the wind.

There is no shame in pulling more club. No one has to know. Anyway, who cares? All that matters is score. Also, I’m sure you have heard that hitting less club into a headwind and swinging hard creates more spin and causes the ball to rise, or balloon in the air. Well, it’s true.

One thing I can tell you is this: rarely do I ever see anyone go over a green when hitting into the wind. And like I said, look at your home course’s architecture. Most of the time, missing long provides you a much easier chip or pitch than you’d have if you miss short.

Macho Man Tip: Missing long always appears more macho than constantly coming up short.

The Golfer’s Achilles Heel

This is probably the first golf lesson you’ve ever had about your heel. You don’t hear many Pros talking about it. So lets talk about it.

When I am working with my golfers, the heel of the back foot is something I am always watching. I believe the heel’s finish position has a huge impact on where the ball is going to end up. I bet a week hasn’t gone by in all my years of coaching that I haven’t at least mentioned something about a players back heel.

For me, at the end of the swing, where the heel is pointing is the clearest and easiest indicator of whether a player has transferred his weight properly on the through-swing. Most amateur golfers finish their swing with their heel in a very poor position. I find this is especially true for older golfers.

“Who cares?” you say. “It can’t be that important!” Well… I do, and it is.

Let’s imagine a clock and the heel of the back foot is the hour hand. In this case we’ll use a right-handed golfer. If his heel finishes in a position earlier than 12 o’clock (shown in first photo) not only has his weight failed to transfer properly on the through-swing, but his hips never fully released, either. In addition, it is doubtful that he will ever be able to Cross the Finish Line. (Last lesson.)

Failure to get the weight off of the back foot causes the lower body to slow down.  To compensate for the lack of power from the legs, the arms take over, and then the hands get too involved. The result is usually an early release, which will produce thin shots, fat shots, a pull or a hook, a push, a slice, etc. Good luck with that.
This looks less than athletic; in fact, if you don’t get off back foot completely, you’ll look like you’re swinging a sledgehammer. When the heel doesn’t finish at 12 o’clock it’s very difficult to predict with any consistency where the ball is going. Especially when it really matters. I’m betting, not at the intended target. By the way, if this is you, you’re the guy I want to play for money.

If the heel ends up pointing at 12 o’clock or, preferably even later (shown in 2nd photo), the player has fully released his hips and will have a nice long balanced finish position; i.e., athletic. He Crosses the Finish Line. More than likely, the ball will end up in a great position. The by-product of getting the heel past 12 o’clock is that the clubhead releases at the proper time not only increasing accuracy but also swing speed.

Another huge benefit is physical. Failing to get your heel to 12 o’clock puts a great deal of stress, on your lower back. If your lower body slows down while the upper body continues to turn through at a high speed, this creates tremendous torque, which could cause serious back injury. Sorry Dad, this is one of the big reasons you’ve had back problems over the years. I’ve even had some of my college guys who look like perfect physical specimens struggle with lower back issues for this very reason. I once tried to swing with my back heel finishing close to the ground while continuing to turn my upper body through the shot fully and I thought I was going to break in half. Wow, was it painful! AND I hit an awful shot. Getting your weight completely off the back foot will eliminate much of the stress the golf swing puts on the lower back.

If for no other reason, get your heel past 12 o’clock to protect your back. You’ll save a ton on chiropractic visits and you’ll thank me for lower scores, too.

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Cross the Finish Line !

As a PGA Professional and college coach I look at golf swings just about every day. When working with a new student (or starting a series of lessons with a club golfer), I start the lesson by observing the student’s swing. I will just watch for a while. Usually during this process I note an erratic shot pattern. After each swing, I am asked, “What did I do that time?” I give an answer. He swings again. Most times the ball goes in a different direction. He asks the same question. “What I do THAT time?” I give a different answer. This routine goes on for a while. I say, “That time you did so-and-so;” then, “Well, that time you did, X.” You get the idea.

Most amateur golfers, when making a full swing, rarely are able to repeat their swing from one shot to the next. Even many of my college golfers, when they first join the team, fall into this category. They are more “hitters” than “swingers.” This inconsistency makes it impossible to predict from day to day how a golfer will play. This is a large reason why my freshman golfers have up-and-down tournaments, with scores that vary dramatically from round to round.

Getting a new golfer to make the same swing every time is Lesson One. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher is—if the student doesn’t make the same move swing after swing, the teacher can’t properly diagnose or fix what is really going on with the swing. The student will never improve.

So, here is my theory:

Every person’s golf swing begins the same way, with the club set right behind the ball—without exception, driver thru putter. If there is a definite starting point in the swing there must also be a definite finishing point in the swing. 

As seen in the photos, a vertical line extends up from the ball. That marks where your swing should begin and end. All golfers begin with the clubhead at the starting line. Unfortunately, most never get the clubhead to cross the finish line, as shown in the second photo. This a large reason shots go off line. It’s why a golfer’s ball flight is inconsistent from shot to shot, round to round, month to month, etc.

I teach every student to get the clubhead to cross the finish line and hold that position until the ball makes contact with the planet. This ensures his weight has completely transferred off the back foot and he has swung in perfect balance. He stands like a statue or “poses” until the ball falls back to earth. At first, many find it difficult to hold this position, which reveals a lot. Butch Harmon says it best: “If you can’t hold your finish it is just by accident that you hit a good shot.” If a golfer can’t hold this position it is clear that he is over-swinging. When making the transition from “hitter” to “swinger”, some golfers make the adjustment relatively quickly; for others, it will take some time. But it is always worth the effort to change. When the student can finally get to the finish line and stay there, we begin to see a clear shot pattern. Now things get exciting.

The student is now SWINGING instead of HITTING, and we begin to see sameness shot after shot. Not only that, almost always he is already hitting the ball better, without any further recommendations from me. At this point I always witness the same thing—big smiles—when he see how a golf ball should be hit, and then the realization of how good he really can be.

Crossing the finish line eliminates many of the variables in the swing. Once we’ve identified a definite shot pattern we can make educated assessments of his swing. There is no guessing or opinion. Just science. Now we can make the proper corrections in posture, grip or alignment that will have lasting and dramatic results in his game.

The lesson is easy. Cross the finish line and stay there, on EVERY full-swing. As I always say to my golfers, “If you start in the same place every time and finish in the same place every time, the middle will take care of itself.”

If you commit to make this change you’ll play better golf. Guaranteed. Not only that, on the range or on the course, even if you hit a poor shot, you’ll still look like a stud.

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Identifying Flying Objects

Unless you gain an understanding of what your ball is doing in the air you can’t take action to correct your problem.

There are only 9 flights that your ball will take after it has been hit. Once you have identified your predominant ball flight making the necessary corrections to your grip and alignment really aren’t that difficult. Hopefully this will help you better understand cause and effect and what adjustments need to be made to improve. Then, it’s a matter of staying committed to what is scientifically correct.

Let’s run briefly through each outcome. We will start in the middle:

Straight: This is the ideal. The club comes into the ball on a great path with the clubface square to the target. Life is good.

Hook: The path is good but the clubface is closed at impact. You just need to weaken your grip.

Slice: The path is good but the clubface is open at impact. You just need to strengthen your grip.

On the left branch of the ball flight tree (Pull) are the ball flights that of course start the ball left. Which means the clubhead came into the ball on an outside to in path.

Pull: If your ball goes straight left with no real curve the clubhead traveled on an outside to in path with a square clubface. You need to work on alignment which will affect the path of your club.

Pull Slice: The clubhead came into the ball with an outside to in path with and open clubface. You can play golf with this ball flight but you’ll really lose distance. But at least the ball works back toward the intended target.

Pull Hook: The clubhead came into the ball with an outside to in path with a closed face. If you hit this shot often keep a lot of balls in your bag, you’re gonna’ need them. Change your grip and alignment.

On the right branch of the ball flight tree (Push) are the ball flights that of course start the ball to the right. Which means the clubhead came into the ball on an inside to out path.

Push: The clubhead came into the ball with a inside to out path with a square clubface. Work on your alignment. You are probably aimed right.

Push Hook: The clubhead came into the ball with an inside to out path with a closed clubface. You can play golf with this ball flight because the ball works back toward center but you’ll probably have a pretty low ball flight and the top spin that this shot creates makes it difficult to control your iron shots because the first bounce on the green will be big. I recommend playing with a ball that gives you a lot of control. You have learned to have a strong grip to compensate for aiming so far right.

Push Slice: The clubhead came into the ball with an inside out path and an open clubface. Just like with the pull-hook if you hit this shot regularly keep a lot of balls in your bag. You need to work on alignment and strengthen your grip.

As you can see from the descriptions of each shot there are patterns. You’ll either want to adjust your grip or your alignment or both. Most of the root problems of the golf swing come back to a faulty grip and/or alignment. If you are willing to do a little investigative work and make some changes you can make a real difference in your game that will last.

In future lessons I will be giving advice on proper grip and alignment. So please keep following.

Thanks for the comments.

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