Swinging a Golf Club
-- Without Slicing:
Getting a Swing, And Getting a Game

After years of playing the game (sort of), and thousands of dollars in lessons, I finally got a handle on where that pesky slice was coming from. I not only found out how to eliminate it, I found out how to fade or draw the ball, at will. It didn't take a ton of lessons, either. Just a couple of good books and the right concepts...

Eric Armstrong
TreeLight.com/golf

I took up golf in order to have a nice walk in pleasant surroundings. At the same time, I'm a skills junkie, so I spent a lot of time working on the mechanics. So I took many a lesson. I had a decent feel for the short game, and plenty of length with the long clubs (a benefit derived from years of athletic endeavors), but I lacked control.

In the short game, I found that the side-to-side variation in the ball flight was much smaller than in the full swing. So in the short game, the key is distance control. After you learn the basic mechanics of putting, chipping, and pitching, the key is knowing how far a ball will fly, and how far it will roll under different conditions, as determined by slope and the length of the grass. It takes a lot of practice to acquiring that kind of feel!

In the full swing, on the other hand, distance variation was much less of a problem. If the ball goes 20 yards further or 20 yards less, there isn't much difference (assuming a generous landing area). It just means your next shot is another club or two up or down. The key in the full swing, then, is controlling side-to-side variation.

Unfortunately, I didn't have that kind of control. What I had was a fade if I was lucky, and a full blown slice that could rear it's ugly head on pretty much any swing. As a result, I hardly ever got to play from the short grass in the center of the fairway. I needed to get a better swing to take the pressure off the short game, so I could use it to score, instead of requiring it to be perfect to keep scores from getting out of hand.

Since nothing in life is ever perfect, there was a limit to how much damage I could "undo" with my short game. Scoring low was a pipe dream. I was too busy scrambling to get out from under the trees!

To minimize the damage, I had to swing very slowly. That's a pain, for an athletic person. But the harder I swung, the further into the woods the ball went.

I finally figured out that two 150-yard swings with a five-iron equals a 300-yard drive and a wedge out of the woods! So I had to throttle back. A lot. But that's a pretty unsatisfying way to play, if you're athletically inclined. And the lack of distance also puts pressure on the short game, requiring it to be better than the time available to perfect it.

Then one day, the answer appeared, as if by magic. No, it didn't appear out of thin air. It took a little reading--the right reading. And once I figured out the problem, I was on my way. But before I recount that part of the story, I'll do a quick review of a few basics. (You may find some new ideas there, as well. So read on!)

Note:
Although I was born left-handed, I was trained to be right-handed before I was old enough to object. (Needless to say, my physical coordination was minimal for many a year, which put me well behind my classmates in sports performance.) Anyway, since I swing right-handed, I describe the swing from that perspective. To left handers, I apologize. Please reverse the directions. (At one point, I tried writing them in a "neutral" style, but they wind up being impossible to follow. For example: "Keep your forward elbow straight on the backswing and tuck the back elbow in on the downswing." Huh? You have to read that twice and translate it, no matter who you are. So I opted to keep things simple for the majority. (And for myself. After all, half the reason for writing the instructions is to cement them in my head, and to provide me with a quick refresher when my swing has once again headed for the sunny South, intent upon taking a nice, long vacation.)

Getting a Basic Swing

To start, though, you need a "basic" swing. You need the ability to get the clubhead to the ball, consistently. It seems easy enough, but it's a hard skill to master, at first. Move a little this way or that, and you find yourself smacking the club into the ground. Or you skim over the top if it, which produces a marvelous little two inch "drive".

Or with the ball on the tea, the driver cuts right under it, and the ball pops off the top of the club. Or you catch on the toe, or the heel, or the bottom edge of the club. There seems to be an endless variety of ways to swing and club and do everything except catch the ball flush on the clubface. So as a beginner, the first thing you need to do is practice until you can swing the club and make contact with the ball.

To do that, here's a key to work on:

Keep the ball the same size in your field of vision.

That's sort of like the advice you normally hear, to "keep your head still", or "keep your eye on the ball", but the point is to focus on the size of the ball. Here's why: If the ball is getting larger, your head is dropping. (You're going to smack the ground.) If it's getting smaller, your head is moving away. (You're going to swing over it.)

Your head position determines how far your shoulders are from the ground. Your arms are attached to your shoulders, and the club is held in your arms, so the position of your shoulders determines whethere the clubhead is going to be relative to the ball.

When you set up at address, your clubhead is in the perfect position. (If you're not sure about that, get a lesson!) When you start swinging the club, your head will naturally move somewhat. If you focus on the size of the ball, you can avoid the most awkard of the beginner mistakes: bashing the ground or "topping" the ball with the bottom of the club.

Of course, your head can also move left and right, forward or back. A bit of left and right movement is going to happen naturally, in a full swing. But you want to avoid forward and back movement, to make consistent contact. But that's generally a much less serious problem. By the time you've eliminated fat, earthy shots and thin, toppy shots, that kind of movement will most likely have disappeared. But if it persists, here's tip for that:

Keep your weight on the balls of your feet.

For your head to move forward or back, your body is going to move, as well. (It's possible to move your head independently, but it feels so weird nobody ever does it unless they're pretending to be a chicken.) When your body moves, the pressure on your feet is going to feel different.

You want to start the swing in an athletic position, with the knees slightly bent and the weight mostly on the balls of the foot. If your body moves forward, the weight will be on the toes. If it moves back, the weight will be more on the heels. So if there is pressure change in your feet, the position of your head and shoulders changed. That changed the trajectory of the arms, which changed the place where the club contacted the ball. (Unless you somehow managed to change the arc of the swing to compensate. Good luck trying to repeat that particular "feat" of coordination. (pun!)

When that happens, you'll feel out of balance. You'll feel like you're on tip toe, or rocked back on your heels. That's why a "balanced swing" is such a good idea--it ensures consistent contact! So if you're not balanced during the swing, listen to your feet to find out which way you were moving.

The Key to Consistent Power: A "Straight" Left

Everyone keeps a nice straight arm as the club starts back. But then, when the arms and back have moved as far as they're willing to go, many a beginner bends their left arm!

It's no wonder. After seeing all the pros twist around so their club is pointing to the target, and after hearing about what a great idea that is, they too try to get the club pointed to the target at the top of the clubhead. I certainly did!

The problem is that most of us are not all that flexible! With a straight left arm we can only twist about halfway back. So the natural tendency is to bend the left elbow, in order to get the club back to where it is "supposed" to be.

But:

A bent the elbow in the backswing makes consistent contact difficult.

On the forward swing, your lower body and arms are now moving independently of one another. One is twisting and moving forward while the other is unfolding and straightening out. If they both happen at just the right time, you get clean contact. If not... Well, the arms might still be unfolding, so you top the ball. Or they might be so late that any power generated by the hips is lost. Or the arms might have unfolded early, with the result that you "cast" the club at the ball before generating any real power with your hips.

In short:

Bending the elbow destroys power, as well as consistency.

Experiment: Keep your left arm straight and twist into the backswing. Do you feel that tightness in your back? That's your muscles getting "loaded". They're ready to spring forward, unleasing all of the power onto a little unsuspecting white ball. Now try bending your elbow when you get to that point. You'll feel the reduced tension in those muscles.

You'll also notice that the club could be pointing almost anywhere, and that there are a hundred different ways to bring it back down. In short, bending the elbow in the backswing is not a good idea!

The moral:

Your backswing goes only as far as it can with the left arm straight.

As you play, your flexibity will gradually improve, allowing you to turn more. The more you can turn, the more power you'll get. But if a "half swing" is all you've got, that's plenty. I've seen people play quite well with that much of a back swing. They get all the power their body can deliver, without sacrificing consistency.

However, there is still one more thing to know about the left arm:

A "straight" left arm is still slightly curved.

In Akido, they call that naturally-curve the "unbendable arm". That curve gives you a comfortable swing that delivers maximum power. (On the downswing, the clubhead's centrifigul force straightens out the arm. That's fine. Just don't force it straight on the backswing.)

Experiment: Put your outstreched hand on someone's shoulder, and let them pull down on your elbow with their hands. If your arm naturally curved, it's almost impossible. But if the arm is completely straight or bent slightly more, it's no trouble at all.)

The Key to Speed: Tuck the Elbow

There is a point when you want to bend an elbow, though--the right elbow. You start the forward swing by dropping the right elbow into your side. That shortens the arc of the swing, so the clubhead travels faster. (That initial part of the forward swing is called the "down swing"--because the club is simply dropping downward at that point.)

Tuck in your right elbow to your side as your arms drop.

Interestingly, though, the elbow tuck is not a power move. It's a relaxed, let-gravity-do-all-the-work, arms-falling kind of move, where the elbow simply drops into position at your side. (When Bobby Jones was measured, they found that the movement was only slightly faster than the rate of gravity.)

With this move, you have begun to set up a whipping action with the club that will generate maximum speed. But watch out--the extra speed can mean you just go deeper into the woods! That's what will happen if you're slicing the ball, at any rate. And that is the problem we'll take up next.

When Your Athleticism Defeats You...

If you have played any sports, and especially if you have done any martial arts, you probably understand that the key to power is in your midsection. If you've done any body building or anatomical analysis, you may further understand that most of that power comes from the muscles of the lower back, where the dense latisimus fibers far outweigh the muscles of the abdominal obliques. (The abdominals also play a large role, but they are dwarfed by the muscles of the lower back.)

So you come to golf with the ability to generate an enormous amount of power--whereupon you slice the ball straight into the woods. And the harder you swing, the deeper in it goes. It's the most frustrating thing ever, for an athlete. You have all this raw power, but you can't use it!

The reason:

When your clubface is open, swinging harder only opens it more.

As your hips turn faster, the clubhead lags farther behind. As it lags, it opens. It only closes when it catches up to the midline of your body, which is now facing far down the fairway. (In addition, as you'll find out later, swinging harder causes you to grip tighter, which keeps from the prevents the clubhead from following it's natural tendency to rotate into the right position.)

To solve the problem, you're going to do things, that we'll be discussing in greater detail in subsequent sections:

  1. You're going to swing easier.
    You're going to focus on a relaxed, easy swing. And guess what? The ball will travel just as far, and generally farther! (More on that subject later.)

  2. You're going to learn how to square the club face.
    And when you do, you're going to be able to utilize more of that power. Because even when the clubhead is lagging behind a bit, the ball is going to go where you want it to go. So you can use that lag to generate more speed, and get the distance you're capable of--without sacrificing accuracy.

The Key Concept: Face Angle, not Swing Path

Time for the big revelation. It all started with an article on "The D-Plane", in the March 2012 edition of Golf magazine. "D-plane" was a term coined by Dr. Theodore Jorgensen in his pioneering book, The Physics of Golf, published in 1993. It was described as the plane lying between the line of the clubhead path and the direction the clubhead is facing at contact.

So imagine that the clubhead is headed straight toward the target. That puts an imaginary line along the ground. Now imagine that the face is square. Since the face is angled a bit, that puts another imaginary line going upward, directly above the path line. Between those two lines, there is a vertical plane--90 degrees to the ground--in which the ball flies. (In other words, it goes directly to the target. As if!)

Now imagine that the club face is open. (Not hard. You do it all the time. C'mon. Admit it.) Now the second imaginary line goes upward to the right of the path line. The plane between those two lines is now tilted to the right, and that is the path the ball travels on.

So far, so good. If the face is open, the ball travels to the right. If it is closed, it travels left. Not to mention the small matter of spin, which we are all too familiar with. But here's the real killer. The article quotes Fredrik Tuxen, who used Doppler radar to create the TrackMan device to see what was actually going on at the moment of contact. According to Tuxen:

"The initial direction of the ball is dominated by the orientation of the clubface, rather
than the clubhead path....A lot of us were taught just the oppositel The truth is, it's a
combination, with about 85 percent depending on the clubface angle, and
depending on the path of the clubhead." (emphasis added)

Let me repeat that:

The direction the ball travels is 85% determined by the angle of the clubface, only 15% by its path!

In other words:

The angle of the club face dominates the equation.

Dang! (sound of palm smacking forehead) All that time I spent working on the swing, I was working on just about everything but the angle of the clubface! At the very least, it wasn't getting the attention it deserved--because no matter how hard or how well I swing, I can never overcome the effect of the face angle. So:

Getting the face square is the single most important element of the swing.

I didn't know exactly how to do that, just yet. But I was on my way. But first, I needed a simpler image to help me simplify things, and visualize what's going on.

Thought Experiment: Imagine a pool cue heading heading straight towards a billiard ball. Now put a flat panel on the end of the cue. When it contacts the ball, the ball goes straight, right? Now angle that panel to the right, in an "open" position. Keep it vertical, though. We're going to eliminate the 3rd dimension here, and keep things in a two dimensional plane. So there's no loft on the plane to pushing the ball upward. The panel is just angled to the right a bit. Now pull the cue back and push it at the ball, the same as you did before. What happens? The ball travels to the right!

The direction of the pool cue represents the momentary direction of the clubhead at the point of impact. The panel represents the direction of the clubface. (Since the swing is curved, it can make contact in multiple directions. But we're eliminating that variable. Similarly, that curve can create more of a glancing blow that adds spin. But we're ignore that, too.)

To make the experiment more sophisticated, imagine now that you can vary the angle of the panel at the end, and that you can measure where the ball hits the edge of the table. (You could set up something like a pin ball plunger, set the panel at various angles, and put a piece of tape at the point where the ball struck the edge of the table, and draw a line on that bit of tape to mark the exact point. You could average the result of several tries to identify the angle of the ball's path when the panel is angled at 30 degrees, at 45 degrees, and 60 degrees.

Note:
It should be possible to create a virtual version of this experiment using the Visual Pinball freeware for Windows, or a similar program.

That experiment would probably be enough to identify the exact relationship. But assuming that is linear, and that the 85% figure is correct, then a panel that was 30 degrees open would cause the ball to take off at 25.5 degrees to the intended line of travel. (85% of 30 degrees).

One that was only 10 degrees open would put the ball 8.5 degrees to the right--and even one degree, magnified over a hundred yards, turns out to be a little over 15 feet. (The actual figure is 15.7 feet. There is a good explanation here.)  A difference of 8.5 degrees works out to darn near 45 yards. And that's for a short club. For a long club that goes twice as far, the difference is even bigger.

And that's not even counting spin! When you figure that the panel is actually dragging across the ball at the point of contact, putting side-spin on it, the huge banna created by flight of the ball is accounted for. (That explains why I was only comfortable when I was facing a fairway that was 100 yards wide! If I aimed for the left edge, I had a decent chance of keeping it in play.

At this point, a large, neon light bulb is blinking on and off in my head. It's screaming to get my attention:

You can do all the work you want on the swing, and try all you want to correct the path. But it's not going to make a dime's worth of difference until you fix the face angle!

Why You Need to Grip Lightly

So at this point, I'm fully focused. The absolute priority, rising far above all other considerations, is to get that clubface square! But how do I do that?

One key arrvies almost immediately: Grip the club lightly, as though you're holding a bird. You don't want it to fly away, but you don't want to crush it to death, either. The object is to simply hold the bird, not strangle it.

Here's why: From hip high in the backswing to hip high in the follow-through, the clubface rotates. At least, it's supposed to. It travels from 90 degrees open in the backswing to 90 degrees closed in the follow-through, ideally meeting the ball halfway between, where it is square to the target.

Note:
You can swing the club without any forearm rotation, by keeping the back of your hand aimed at the ball at all times. But when you do that, you lose the "hinging" action (the way the wrist moves to swing a hammer or cast a rod). The hinging creates the whip action that generates so much of the clubhead speed, so it's something you want for distance. But its not like you are forcing the clubhead to close by rotating your forearms. What you want is the natural forearm rotation that occurs as the clubhead stays square to the arc. If your forearms are tense, that natural rotation won't happen.

If you hold the clubface loosely, the clubface will do that. All by itself. It's a combination of physics (the weight of the clubhead is off-center in relation to the shaft) and biomechanics (the way your forearms rotate during the swing, when they are completely relaxed). But here's the thing: The clubhead only weighs a few ounces! You can easily overcome the club's tendency to close by gripping it tightly. And with your forearms tense, they won't rotate, either. That's a terrific recipe for keeping the clubface open.

In other words, with a loose grip and a relaxed swing, you get just as much power--and probably more--and you allow the clubface to close naturally.

Tip: Sticky grips help!
When the grips are "tacky", they stick to your hands. That feels a bit uncomfortable, but it means that you don't have to make an effort to grip the club. You just wrap your hands around it, loosely, and the friction pretty much takes care of things. Your hands can then relax, which means your forearms can relax, allowing the club to rotate naturally. (So if you play a lot, replace your grips every year. If you're more normal, do it every 2nd or 3rd year.)

Here's why it matters if you hold the club loosely:

A light grip allows the forearms to rotate more easily.

Experiment: Keeping your elbow at your side, raise your hand until it's projecting out in front of your body. Make make a fist, and close tightly. Then rotate your wrist back and forth from wrist up, as fast as you can. Com'on, is that as fast as you can go? Now relax your grip, keeping the same fist with zero tension. And try again, as fast as you can.

What happened? Unless you came from another planet, your wrist rotations happened at something like twice the speed with your hand relaxed, compared to having a tight wrist. And that's important, because if that gyroscopic club taught me anything, it's that rotation of the clubface occurs in well less than the blink of an eye!

Consider that the whole forward swing takes less than a second. The club is moving fastest at the point of contact, and just as it's getting there, the clubhead is squaring up. So it's squaring up more and more during the final part of the downswing--and that's just a fraction of the split second it takes to swing the club!

In other words, if the wrists are rotating at all, they are rotating very quickly during that part of the swing. But again, the clubhead only weighs a few ounces, so it's to "hold it off" with your forearm strength, even if you don't intend to. And when you do, the clubhead stays open, at which point a slice jumps out of your bag and drags the ball into the woods. (Don't do that! Hold the club loosely.)

Note:
At one point I bought a practice club that has a gyroscopic in it. The gyroscope forces the clubface to stay square to the path of the clubhead, which means that it is square to that path when the club makes contact to the ball. So if you were able to strike a ball (you can't, without breaking the club), you would see that the ball always goes straight. It might be a little left or a little right, but it would always fly perfectly straight, because of the square face.

Using the gyroscopic club, I felt the clubhead "flip" just before contact. That feeling had me thinking that I had to reproduce that "flip" in my normal swing, to square up the face. Feeling the clubhead "flip" caused me to begin thinking in terms of timing the rotation. But that "flip" was mostly the result of the gyroscope forcing the club to rotate--to overcome the resistance of my grip, which was diabolically (and unintentionally) working as hard it as could to keep the clubface open! In fact, if it taught me nothing else, the club showed me just how hard I was holding on, because my forearms always hurt after using it.

So at this point, I'm thinking that wrist rotation is the key to it all. And I'm trying to time that rotation to get the ball flight I want. Needless to say, it's hard to get consistent timing when multiple things are happening in a movement that lasts no more than a split second. So no, I wasn't exactly getting the results I was looking for. There were additional ingredients that needed to be added to the recipe...

The Key to Swinging Freely

Ok, you've got the idea that you need to grip loosely. You're ready to relax, meditate your way around a golf course, and develop an effortless swing. But there is still the matter of holding on to the club! Throwing it at your playing partners as it comes over your shoulder is no way to keep friends!

So how to keep a sufficient grip on the club, while still allowing your forearms to rotate freely? The answer:

Grip with the Last Three Fingers Only.

That bit of advice applies to both hands. As you grip the club,

I found that tip, and the best possible explanation for it in How to Become a Complete Golfer where Toski and Flick provide an all-important physiological detail:

(The muscles of the last three fingers) are basically attached to the elbow, and most of them run no farther up the arm. On the other hand, muscles activated by the thumb and forefinger run all the way up the arm....Pressure in the thumb and forefinger stiffens your muscles all the way up and restricts your swing.
  --p. 57

The key part of the swing they restrict, of course, is the forearm rotation that has to occur for the clubhead to close.

Experiment: To prove the point to yourself, hold your fist out in front of your body again. This time, squeese hard with the last three fingers, but keep the thumb and forefinger loose. (If you have a hard time doing that, then quess what? You just found a contributing factor to slice.) Now rotate your wrist again, as fast as you can. Notice that it is almost exactly as fast it is when you fiist is completely loose. Now pinch your thumb and forefinger together tightly, and try again. Aha! You're back to the rotation speed of a slow-motion tight fist!

Drill: Do the experiment above with both hands. You need to keep both thumbs and forefingers loose, while squeezing with the bottom three fingers, and you need to be able to rotate each wrist rapidly. (If one is a lot slower than the other, that one is holding you back!)

To further cement the idea, Toski and Flick go on to quote no less an authority than Jack Nicklaus:

"For the purposes of the golf swing, Nicklaus says, "you could cut them off." Photos from the files of Golf Digest substantiate that statement. They show Nicklaus with a driver at the top of the swing and again at impact with his right thumb and forefinger completely off the club.
 --p. 57

Could it get any clearer than that?

As for exactly how much grip pressure you need, Toski and Flick cite some interesting research:

Al Koch, a Dallas, Texas electronics expert, has developed a device that records pressure
in the last three fingers of the left hand throughout the swing. Koch has found, in general, that
the better player (who might have a grip pressure potential of 25-35 pounds per square inch)
holds the club with only three to five pounds of pressure at address. From that point, the
pressure in the left hand increases at a relatively smooth rate until impact, and even then the
better player is usually gripping with less than half of his potential strength.
 --p. 59

They go on to say that tests show poorer players gripping much harder with the left hand at the start of the swing, and then slackening it through impact. But if there is research that tells what the right hand is doing at that point, they don't cite it. More importanly, they don't mention whether the poorer player's grip pressure winds up being less than the better player's at impact, the same, or more. So it's not quite clear whether the right hand has taken over, or whether both hands are still holding on for dear life. It's a question for further research. In the meantime:

Grip with the last three fingers only, and grip lightly.

The Key to Direction: Wrist Position

At that point, How to Feel a Real Golf Swing provided the most important and most completely unexpected part of the puzzle.

--picture on page 16

Terms:
--"cocked" - as when lifting a hammer up to pound a nail
--"cupped", "bent" - as when reving a motorcycle (large knuckles and back of the hand move towards back of forearm)
--"bowed", "arched", "folded" - as when doing a wrist curl. (small knuckles and palm move forward towards inside of forearm)

To feel if the clubhead open or closed at the top of the backswing,
feel the position of your left wrist
.

Experiment: Swing to the top. Without looking, feel the wrist position. Is the clubhead open or closed? Look to see. Then swing down slowly, and see where the clubhead is facing at the bottom of the swing.

Wow. My "normal" position (left wrist cocked), clubhead comes down open. With wrist straight, it comes down square. The back of my left hand is facing the target, too, like I want it to. (With the wrist cocked, the side of the hand comes down facing the target. Something biomechanical is going on that I don't quite understand, but there was an undeniable relationship between the wrist's position at the top of the backswing, its position at contact, and the position of the clubface!

Note:
The gyroscopic club gave me the feeling that I needed to "flip" the clubhead at the ball, with a rapid wrist rotation. That feeling isn't all bad. It's part of a good swing. And it helped a bit. But I could never quite get the timing down! The "flip" always seemed to be happening to late, because the flight of the ball told me that the face was definitely open at impact! With the wrist position corrected, there is a lot less "flipping" (but still a little), and a clubhead that stays square throughout the arc of the swing!

And that's not all!

Wrist position also determines the swing path.

--what "inside out", "outside-in" (aka "over the top"), and "on plane" really mean
--cupped/bent = open clubface, outside-in swing, and weak, high slice
--bowed/arched/folded = closed clubface, inside-out swing, and low duck hook
--straight = closed clubface, on plane swing, and straight shot

The hardest part, for me, was understanding why the wrist position makes such a difference.

Experiment: .... --tennis racket!!?

--back of the wrist in line with the face of the club. So making contact with a square clubface means "backhanding" the ball.
-- if you  do that with wrist bent (cupped), you'll hurt your wrist! So you automatically "hammer fist" the ball, leading the way through contact with the fleshy side of the hand under the pinky.
--Similarly, when the wrist is folded (bowed, arched), there is a tendency to lead with the thumb, rather than the back of the hand.

Experiment: Visualize holding a carpenter's "square" (a piece of metal with a 90-degree bend in it, or one two-sided section of a picture frame, with one finger at each end of the angle. Start with the angle pointed away from you. What happens? The thing always rotates, so the angle is pointing straight down, right? That's gravity. The angled bit always heads for the bottom. Now pick up a club with your left hand, and hold it in your backswing position:

To complete the experiment, rotate to the left and see where the clubhead is at impact. Amazing, huh? A cupped left wrist produces an open clubface. A folded left wrist produces one that is closed. So you have three kinesthetic sensations you can use to guide your swing:

Feel the left wrist square at the top,
Feel the pinky leading the way on the downswing,
Feel the back of the hand leading through contact.

Voila! One straight shot, made to order.

The Key to Coordination: Smooth Tempo

At some point, someone identified 19 different variables in the golf swing. Some are fixed at setup: Your grip and ball position (forward or back, further away or closer). But most are moving parts: Your knees and hips, torso rotation (shoulders), elbows, wrists (2 different directions), and forearms (rotating). That's 10 of them, right there.

A lot of the swing, then, is about timing the moving parts, so they all work in unison. Good swing mechanics can help to minimize the number of variables and eliminate movements that just can't work, but for what's left, it all comes down to timing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

...

Get the right shaft for your swing speed.

The idea is that the shaft bends, which causes you find a slower tempo--a better tempo--so the end of the shaft (the clubhead, when you're playing) has time to catch up with your hands. That's important--and the main reason that a strong player with an athletic background needs a stiff shaft. If you swing with speed, a shaft with a regular flex is more "whippy". If you swung at the right speed, the whip action would make the ball go farther. But when you swing faster than that, the clubhead lags behind, due to the shaft flex. In that situation, it still hasn't gotten around to closing when it gets to the ball, which means an open clubface, which means... you guessed it. The moral is that a shaft that is too flexible for tempo magnifies your slice. The more flexible the shaft, the deeper the ball goes into the woods. (If it's too stiff, on the other hand, you get no flex at all, and you give up a lot of power. That's why getting the right shaft for your swing speed is the most important part of club fitting.

The next important element is the right "tempo"--which means that each part of the swing has just the right amount of time--the amount of time it needs to work properly, without taking so much time that other parts of the swing are impeded.

In other words, you need to:

Swing at the right tempo for your shaft.

?--reference Search for the Perfect Swing here?

It's no easy to matter to develop that sense of tempo--or even to understand why it is so important. A training aid developed in England helps to instill that sense of timing. (There, is known as the "Orange Whip". In the U.S., it is more generally known as the "Swing Tempo Trainer".)

In addition to building swing strength. getting you used to holding the club with the right grip, the device helps to instill that sense of tempo. The Orange Whip philosophy page does a good job of explaining why it is important: \

"Most golfers find it difficult to accept the idea of the golf swing as a "sling", because they find it impossible to think of the stiff metal shaft as a kind of "rope". But to generate maximum centrifugal force in the golf swing, you must think of the club shaft as something soft and malleable, like a rope. One of the best ways to establish the feel of a good golf swing is to swing a small weight, tied to the end of a rope, in the same way that you would swing a golf club." (Shades of Ernst Jones, who taught that way!)

"As the arms and body work together, a natural rhythm takes over the swing. This is how your tempo develops, some may be fast or slow, yet always in balance with an efficient motion"

"You automatically discover how necessary it is for your muscles to wait for that weight to swing back; and how your shoulders must turn in a way that gives time for that mass to get up to an optimal position for slinging;and how your legs must lead the downswing while your arms wait for the mass to accelerate;and how all of your movements must focus on that point on the ground that you are attempting to swing through; and how beautifully your head stays steady....Once (that tempo) is grooved in, it will never go away again."

Developing a Loose, Relaxed Swing

With the mechanics well in hand, you can begin to stop worrying about the flight of the ball. (It will probably take time!) But to the degree you can stop worrying, to that degree you will relax. And as you relax, the tension you've been carrying in your stomach, shoulders, and arms--will begin to fade away. As that tension fades, you'll be swing faster (remember the forearm experiment--the same thing happens with your torso rotation) and the clubhead will be closing ever more easily, ever more surely.

Your reward will be straighter shots. And the more it happens, the more confident you'll become. With your growing confidence, you'll relax even more, and you'll begin to develop a nice, nice, relaxed swing--one that beats a desperate lunge at the ball, any day. So the "endline" for this particular process is to turn the swing into a smooth and effortless motion.

The first step is practice:

Practice the right swing until the pattern is grooved into your muscle memory.

When you start doing the right things, the ball responds. When you're getting the results you expect, your confidence grows, and you can begin to relax. So the first step is to groove in a good swing!

The right practice equipment can help you groove it in faster.

To put that swing into your muscle memory even faster:

Your Goal: Develop Awareness and Control

It's important to recognize that the equimpment recommended above is merely a temporary aid :

The equipment is a crutch. Use it get the swing you want, and then discard it.

If you have already ingrained a swing that produces a deep slice or hook, the practice equipment can help you retrain yourself until your body becomes comfortable with the new mechanics, and ingrains them in your muscle memory. They can help you to become more aware of your habits, and help to overcome them more quickly. So if you're looking for a quick fix to become a better golfer, get them and use them. Then, when you're ready to become a great golfer, abandon them and focus on the feeling of the wrist position that equates to an open, closed, or square clubface.

Use your feel to produce the different shot shapes.

At some point, you will want to take control of your swing, in order to create a fade or draw at will. That ability to shape your shot is helpful to make the ball move in the direction the fairway takes, to play in the wind, and to get out of trouble, so at some point you will abandon the equipment, to become aware of the subtle variations that produce those shot shapes. And now that you know what to focus on, you can work on simply being aware of what you're doing, and noticing the effect it has. In the long run, that is the skill you really need, to produce the shape you want, when you want it.

In addition, you'll want to:

Use your feel to keep your short game

One thing that causes trouble, when you are learning the game is that you are generally rewarded for keeping the clubface from closing in the short game! For putts and chips, the longer you keep the clubhead traveling down a straight line with face square, the better chance you have of moving the ball down the line you were aiming at. For pitches and wedges from 100 yards and in, a more open face gives you a higher trajectory and better stopping power. At the very least, it doesn't hurt you.

But in the long game, you're only rewarded when you close the clubface, to get it square at implact. That combination can make it difficult to get both parts of your game going on the same day.

Swing Summary

After developing a basic swing that lets you put the clubhead in the general vicinity of the ball on a regular basis, it turns out that:

When it comes to ball direction, face angle dominates the equation.

When then found that :

Wrist position determines face angle.

And, on top of that:

Wrist position determines swing path.

So:

When it comes to the swing, wrist position dominates the equation.

That pretty much covers all you need to know to get the ball flight you want! Applying those principles to the swing, we get:

--straight wrist to get a straight shot
--folded (arched, bowed) wrist + ?compensation? to get a closed club face and inside-out path (a draw)
--cupped (bent) wrist + ?compensation? to get an open club face and an outside-in path (a fade)
--without the compensations, you get a hook or a

Then:

--Hold the club with the last three fingers only
--Relax everything, but mostly the forearms
--Keep the orchestra together with tempo

Practicing, Preparing, and Planning

The first thing to do, of courrse, is to practice:

Get your swing working.

To develop the swing you need now, and also develop a good sense of feel, here is a good practice progression:

Get the short game working, too.

That's to develop your swing, by spending a few minutes each day, at home. You'll also want to work on your short game (putting, chipping, and pitching) to keep your score low. Plan on spending at least one session a week on that.

Dial in your clubs.

Once you have both parts of the game working, you're in a position to start shooting some seriously low scores. At this point, everything begins to come down to distance. You've got to figure out the average distance for each of your clubs. If you can get a sense of the maximum and minimum, so much the better. Ideally, you'll also have some idea of the left/right dispersion for each club, in yards.

With that preparation done, You can now begin planning your way around a course. Pick a wide landing area, and pick the club that tends to go to the center of it. If there is severe danger ahead, pick a club who's maximum distance stays short of it. You have now begin minimizing your score, as you pick your way around the course. (As your precision increases, you will want to attack more aggressively, so you need to update your club tendencies at fairly frequent intervals.)

Tracking Your Progress

When I bought a pedometer, I found that I was walking more--just because it was fun to see the numbers going up. When you're working on golf, you naturally want your scores to down, but I'm going to suggest you start with a few statistics--adding one a time--so you can see that you're making progress, even when the score sheet hasn't quite gotten around to acknowledging that fact.

After the round, put a square around the boxes that cost you unnecessary strokes, the same way you would put a square around a bogey score. (Remember to be kind! A putting statistic of | | | means three good putts from a bad position. Don't beat yourself up and go spending all your time at the putting range! Spend the time on the chipping or pitching you needed to put the ball into better position.)

Note:
At some point, you'll probably want to separate out your around-the-green the chips from your 40-yard-and-in pitches. That takes an extra line on the stat sheet. You may also want to separate your wedges (say, 60-100 yards) from your other other irons. At that point, you are no doubt running out of lines on the score card! One trick is to use as letter to denote the kind of shot: W(edge), P(itch), C(hip), S(and), and then add a +, |, or o to indicate how well you played it.

With that system, you only need four lines for stats:

Finally, don't worry much about the advanced statistics. Unless you can find 10 hours a week to practice, a single-digit handicap is going to be hard to achieve. There are many parts of the swing, all of which have to be coordinated with such precision that playing golf has more in common with playing a musical instrument than it does with playing other sports--and every professional musician I know practices five hours a day.

In addition, there are many different parts to the game (driver, woods, long irons, short irons, wedges, pitches, chips, and bunkers), that it is very difficult to get them all working on the same day. You're not just playing one instrument, in other words--you're the whole dang orchestra!

An informal survey of single-digit golfers I know (all two of them), suggests that they spend about 10 hours a week on the game. They have radically different approaches--one spends a lot of time in the practice areas, the other plays once a week and spends less time practicing, but they both spend about the same amount of time, so that seems like a reasonable figure to use. It makes sense--because the only way to get all of those different aspects working is to practice all of them, at least once a week. And that process just takes time.

So where does that leave you, if you don't have 10 hours a week to spend on the game? Easy! Play for bogey! (Or do what I do, and call them Barbies. Everyone loves Barbie!) A hundred years ago, before all the great equipment and professionals who spend eight hours a day on the game, bogey was considered the score to beat, the same way that par is now. (And pars were thought of the way we think of birdies.)

So be realistic. If you can spend the time, aim for par and a single-digit handicap. Otherwise, aim for bogey and a handicap in the mid-teens (13-18).

Learning to Relax on the Course

Developing a relaxed swing is a great beginning.

Practice the art of total relaxation, throughout your swing and throughout the round.

As one book put it, you can train yourself to develop a "Relaxation Response"--so that the moment things get tense, your automatic response (made automatic by dint of practice) is to relax! That's the kind of skill you need to bring to the course. (And it's the kind of skill we can all use in our lives.)

It can also help to keep a few concepts in mind, like the ones Toski and Flick provide in How to Become a Complete Golfer:

"Golf is a game played in a state of grace," said Seymour Dunn, one of the game's most insightful writers and teachers, and we've never heard a better description. It means that the good golf swing promotes
a feeling in the player--and an impression on the observer--of grace, ease, fluidity, and control.
 --p. 20

It helps to understand that golf is not a matter of strength! After all, the ball weighs only a few ounces, and very small people can propel it very long distances. As Toski and Flick go on to say:

You instinctively feel that you have to swing hard to achieve the necessary distance. You succumb to the "hit impulse", which takes away your sense of timing....Consider that the golf ball weighs 1.62 ounces, and is made of rubber. A golf club weighs from 11 to 17 ounces....and an adult golfer weighs from 100 to 250 pounds, or more. How much effort does it take for a person that big with an implement that heavy to advance that little ball?
--p. 20

In swinging the club...you should have a feeling of ease. If you lose that feeling of ease, you have swung the club too fast and are going out of control. Your muscles are tightening in an effort to regain control, and you are headed for trouble.
--p. 25

The speed of a tee shot will be greater than that of a putt. But there should be no conscious effort to make it faster. The speed is greater simply because the swing is longer (due to the longer shaft, and longer motion)....Bobby Jones said it best when said you must not only swing the club back in a leisurely manner, oyou must also start it down in a leisurely manner. Most players use far too much physical effort....The hit impulse takes over. Instead of properly timing the swing, they overexert themselves when they don't have to."
--p. 21

So how to bring all those thoughts out to the course? By practicing that kind of relaxation until its second nature, of course. But tension does arise, so for the final step, you to learn to:

Acknowledge tension, then let it dissipate, and subside.

It helps to listen to the advice of the masters, as Toski and Flick were kind enough to relay, on p. 27:

Bobby Jones said that on the first two or three holes of a round he just tried to meet the ball and keep it in play. Then, as his mind and muscles became keener and more attuned to the act, he begin hitting the ball harder.

Nicklaus says that on the first tee, when his tension level is usually high, he makes sure he hits a good drive by trying to reduce that tenstion level and just meet the ball solidly by swinging slowly with a good tempo.

Finally, if I may be so bold, let me suggest one more thing:

Learn the Inner Smile Meditation

I learned this technique in my Ipsalu Tantra practice, and it is arguably the most important thing I ever got out of it. (For more, see the entries at the end of the Resources.)

May you bask in the presence of God as you walk down the fairway of life, and may your heart know peace and joy, generosity and love.

Resources

Books

I found these used at Amazon for $.01 each, plus $3.99 for shipping and handling. At $4 each, they are undoubtedly the best investment I have ever made in my golf game, with a Return on Investment (ROI) that is off the charts!

These books dig progressively deeper into the mechanics of the swing.

For a bit more on the swing:

Learn how to play the game to score low (add that to a good swing, and you're golden):

Online Resources

Training Aids

Meditation

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