Monthly Archives: January 2012

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.

Verbal Use and Abuse

One thing most golfers are very good at is verbally acknowledging a bad shot. However, when they hit a good shot there is almost always silence. Why is it that most golfers are unable to compliment themselves? Why is this such a foreign idea? What ever happened to the adage, if you haven’t got something nice to say don’t say anything at all?

Look at it this way. If you had a caddie who spoke to you the way that you speak to yourself, you’d fire him. Period. But I see so many golfers who beat themselves up constantly. This destructive behavior makes it almost impossible for anything good to happen on the course.

I talk with my team about this subject a great deal. I tell them, “Remember, on the course, you are the only cheerleader you have.” So why is it that most golfers beat themselves up? Why aren’t they pumping themselves up instead?

Most golfers have two categories for golf shots. Either it is acceptable, in which case they remain mostly silent, or it is terrible, which is made obvious to all by negative self-talk. When they hit a bad shot, I would prefer that my golfers accept that they are human and therefore imperfect and prone to mistakes, and just let it go.  My rule is, if you insist in venting for the bad shots you must also say something positive when you hit a good shot. It’s only fair. Good and bad comments must balance themselves out.

On our team we have a rule: VERBALLY recognize every effective shot. By the way, verbal means, out loud. It is not acceptable to just think it. It has to be out loud. In fact, this is so important that over the years, during a few collegiate qualifiers instead of using scores to determine a winner, we have kept track of how many times a player has remembered to say something positive after good shots. That’s how serious I am about this. In time, my players notice that they’re actually doing far more good than bad just because they hear more positive comments than bad. This is a great way to improve a golfer’s self-confidence. And now, on the course we sound and play like winners.

Notice that the rule also says, verbally recognize every EFFECTIVE shot. An effective shot is not necessarily a great shot. Example: Let’s say you have a 7 iron into the green. You hit it thin and it runs most of the way on the ground, but finds the green. That’s an effective shot! It may not have looked pretty, but you met your goal. According to my rule, at this point, you have to say something positive. Why? BECAUSE YOU DID GOOD! Remember, the goal of a golf shot is not for it to look good, or to be technically perfect, it’s for the ball to find it’s target. Period. So don’t stand there in the fairway after a less than perfect shot rehearsing your swing and finding fault when you were just successful. Your shot found it’s target. You achieved your goal for Pete’s sake! Just pat yourself on the back and focus on the next shot; you’ll make a better swing next time.

For years, before focusing on positive self-talk, during a tournament round I would see many of my golfers hanging their heads and beating themselves up. And guess what? The more we assaulted ourselves verbally, the more we stunk it up. It would drive me nuts! Now that we employ the recognize every effective shot rule, my players have the ability to keep themselves in a positive frame of mind, even when things aren’t going their way. And guess what? Their bad play almost always turn around.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a college player, an amateur or a tour pro. If you let yourself get into a negative frame of mind, you might as well walk off the course, because nothing good is going to happen. I believe that whatever comes out of your mouth goes right back into your ear and then into your brain. It has been confirmed by scientists who study the brain that your thoughts actually carve out the grooves in your brain. That’s how a thought becomes a habit and a habit becomes behavior. This explains why most golfers never get better. They have programed themselves to expect the worst. It’s a fact, your brain is a computer and will only do what it’s programmed to do.

The solution is simple. Go ahead and react if you have to when you hit a bad shot. But then, when you do something good, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself OUT LOUD that you did good. You must refill the emotional tank that negative thoughts and words use up. Learn to re-program your brain. Soon you’ll find yourself playing better golf and people will enjoy playing with you more.

We’ll keep talking about this subject in future lessons.

Thanks for following!

Friggin’ Brain

One of the ironies of golf is that you have to really use your brain, but it can also can kill your game. Learning how and when to use it is the key to good golf. The brain and the body should have a dialogue. However, if your brain is speaking when the body should be swinging, you’re gonna’ play bad golf. After their best rounds, all golfers say the same thing: “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just let is happen.” Turning off the brain at the right time is crucial.

Standing over the ball at address for more than a few seconds rarely produces good results. If you linger over the ball on any golf shot, all your brain is doing is creating doubt and fear. I know, I know. You’re going through a check-list of all the things that you need to remember before you swing. While running through your mental list of to-do’s may seem like a positive, this practice is actually sabotaging your game.

Concentrating harder does not equate to better results. The opposite is actually true. If you let yourself be an athlete over the ball and turn your brain off during the swing you will have better results. You’ll swing more freely and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Scientists have determined that the brain can only think about one thing at a time. The key is to distract the brain from from thinking about golf while in the address position. In fact, Golfpsych, one of the top mental training programs employed by tour pros, recommends that many of their golfers think about anything other than golf between shots. Sometimes even while over shots.

Vision 54, another golf mental training program, teaches golfers to cross what they call the “commitment line.” You can think about technical things while you are behind the ball, but once you are over the ball you must rely on your athletic skill and intution. If while over the ball you start having technical thoughts you must then step away from the ball, clear your mind and start your pre-shot routine again.

What we need is a little self-hypnosis. When you drive your car to work you don’t think about what you’re doing or how it happens very often because we’ve done it thousands of times. Poof, you magically arrive without much conscious effort. You just let it happen. Your mind was elsewhere. You were on auto-pilot.

I like to have my golfers swing the club as soon as possible after they address the ball, not allowing time for the brain to do bad things. Brandt Snedecker does this. He commits, steps in and hits it. I work with many of my students to  determine the ideal amount of time it takes for them to get comfortable and then swing. On the range, I count out loud to train them on their timing. At first, most of them feel rushed, and you may, too. This makes sense, because almost everyone takes too long over the ball. As a coach I work together with my players to shorten their time.

While I count the player will settle into the shot. He sets his feet; sometimes there is a waggle of the club or a tug on the shirt. Each golfer has his own unique way of addressing the ball. I will count slowly, “5… 4… 3… 2… 1.” When I say, “one,” it is time to pull the trigger. Ready or not. Boom! Players are always amazed at how much more frequently they hit the ball great, once they employ the countdown. They quickly realize all of the prep work they used to do was no help at all. If fact, it hurt them! This is a very liberating discovery. Greatness was there all the time, hiding behind that friggtin’ brain.

The countdown is a great pre-shot routine to adopt because if your brain is busy counting, you are not thinking about your swing, or O.B., or hazards, or score. Thinking about that stuff keeps you from playing your best. The countdown helps get you into auto-pilot mode.

Get over the ball. Tell your brain to shut up. And swing! Make sure you yell, “Boom!” while the ball is screaming through the air.

Each month I will be doing another piece about the Friggin’ Brain.

Thanks for following. If you find this helps you please come back I’d love to hear your comments!

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.

The Poop on the Loop

In the last lesson, The Pro Position, we we talked about where the clubhead needs to be when the shaft is parallel to the ground. In this lesson I’ll tell you why.

Here’s the poop. Like it or not, during the golf swing the clubhead is going to make a loop. The clubhead doesn’t just swing back and through on the same path. With all of the turning and twisting the body does during the swing this would be almost impossible and not to mention, counterproductive.

So, you have two choices. First, let’s talk about the best option. If you get into The Pro Position you have already done most of the work and the club is on a terrific path that will set the club in a beautiful position at the top of the swing. Then, without any effort on your part the club will come down into the ball on a nice inside path and you’ll hit the ball where you were aiming. By choosing this option you will play more confident golf and then begin to focus more on targets and playing more instinctively, instead of having doubts and fears running around your mind during the swing.

Now, the other option makes golf much harder. If you take the club back inside when the shaft is parallel to the ground your body will begin its process of trying to make compensations for a faulty swing path. Because the clubhead is stuck behind you at this point your arms will begin to lift the club to try and re-route the club. This more than likely will result in the club coming in from the outside or, the classic over the top move. Many golfers have this move but they don’t understand how they do it and more importantly, they don’t know the cure. Well, here it is.

When the club comes over the top it creates so many potential problems that I can’t discuss them all in one lesson. Each person who hits from over the top has their own unique way of screwing up the shot. Sometimes you’ll hit snap hooks. Sometimes you’ll hit pull-slices.Sometimes you’ll hit it straight. The possibilities are endless. And if your brain knows the possibilities are endless its going get overloaded. Now many golfers can play decent golf with an over the top swing but they’ll never play to their potential. Because in crucial moments the compensations the body and mind are trying to make, don’t usually work when you’re in a pressure situation during your round.

This loop keeps golf very unpredictable from day to day and shot to shot.

So that’s the poop on the loop. I say, make this hard game as easy as possible.

Thanks for a awesome first week! The response has been great! Thanks for the comments and as always, if you have an issue you’d like discussed, leave it in the comment box. I’ll get to them.

Awesome Irons

When I am giving lessons to new students more times than not one of the first things I have to adjust is how far or close someone is to the ball. Most golfers don’t have a clear understanding on what is the most effective. I find that most golfers stand too far away from the ball with their irons, with their arms extended and locked in a stiff, un-athletic manner. This is one of the root causes of poor swing mechanics. Extending the arms so far away from the body creates a myriad of problems. “Reaching” creates tension in the arms, flattens the swing plane, which creates a poor swing-path and makes it difficult to make solid, consistent contact with the ball. In addition to that, being too far away from the ball reduces swing speed so you won’t hit the ball as far.

Hopefully, this photograph will explain and make it easy for you to understand how to get into a proper set-up position.

I really only look for one thing. I want to see the toes, the butt end of the grip and the shoulder on the same vertical line. If those 3 things are touching that line you’ll be in great shape! Let your arms hang straight down. Don’t reach! If you set up like this you’ll find a lot of your swing problems will be diminished. Many of you will feel at first that you are too close to the ball, but you are not. If you feel that way it’s because you were too far away from the ball to begin with.

Try this an your swing will feel fluid and athletic. Your path will be better. Your contact will be better. The ball will fly long and straight!

If you have a topic you’d like discussed please use the comment box. I will be glad to address your questions. Thanks for reading!

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