I am a firm believer and a stickler for teaching pre-swing fundamentals. I insist that each student assumes the correct address positions prior to each and every shot during the lesson. If a life-long slicer comes to me looking for a “fix”, I will correct their pre-swing fundamentals before any concern is given to ball flight. Once the student accepts and understands the importance of these positions, we will then begin to hit balls again to determine what is happening mechanically in their swing to cause the errant shot. In other words, I don’t want to blame a bad shot on poor posture, incorrect ball position, or a bad grip. Setting up to hit the shot with good pre-swing fundamentals is the easy part, yet the fundamentals are often neglected. Getting the club to swing consistently on the correct path and plane is the challenge.
I also believe in trying to eliminate as many unnecessary moving parts in the golf swing as possible. These are some key positions that I look for: (right handed golfer)
- The left heel should stay on the ground throughout the entire swing.
- The right knee should remain in a flexed position throughout the swing.
- The left arm should remain as straight as possible from the address position to the top of the backswing and through impact. (Sometimes slight flex at the top of the backswing is functional. See two-time U. S. Open Champion Lee Janzen.)
- The angle of our spine angle must be maintained from address position and through impact.
- The head must stay level through impact.
- The chin should stay behind the ball through impact.
- The left knee must be firm (if not straight) when we reach the impact position. This is accomplished by rotating the hips toward the target on the downswing.
- Excessive arm lifting and over-swinging must controlled on the backswing.
I also am a firm believer in free and open communication with the student. I want to explain and be thoroughly understood as different concepts are discussed. I will never ask you to do something a certain way without explaining the reason and purpose for it. I want you to fully understand the cause and effect relationships regarding the golf swing and ball flight results. This is an important tool to have so you can go about evaluating and self-correcting when things start to go bad while playing golf. Playing golf to the best of your potential is directly related to your knowledge and understanding of the game. I often tell students that before they could become successful at their chosen career, they had to gain their wealth of knowledge through education to provide the foundation for success. Golf is no different. It is so important to seek out a qualified PGA teaching professional to direct your learning experience. Here is a common scenario. You have had very little, if any, formal golf instruction and your typical miss-hit is a slice to the right. Playing golf with your buddies Saturday morning, you are having a particularly difficult time controlling your slice and find yourself in the opposite fairway more often than your own. One of your buddies says, “Why don’t you aim farther to the left and just play your slice?” Another one says, “Why don’t you just change your grip position this way, it helped me.” Without a good understanding of the golf swing, these “helpful tips” from your buddies would be synonymous to putting perfume on a pig! Learn the game, fundamentals first. Trust your instructor and trust your swing. Too many people rely on quick fix “band-aid” remedies to cure simple faults.
THE PUZZLE ANALOGY
As an assistant golf professional coming up through the ranks during the 1980’s I would work at a golf club in Michigan in the summer and move to south Florida for the winter golf season. I always used to make a point to search out a well known and respected instructor in Florida and take a lesson or two, myself. The purpose was three fold. I was hoping to gain new insight on my own golf swing to help me play better. Second, I wanted to experience different teaching techniques. Third, I wanted to put myself in the position of being a student so I could better understand what my own students were experiencing. This is to simply emphasize that I have been where you are in the learning process. I too continue to learn. To me, the learning process that we all must go through is analogous to putting a big puzzle together. The new golfer is in the position of opening the box of a 500-piece puzzle, staring at all scattered pieces and wondering where to begin. The process of putting it together begins with locating and piecing all the border parts together. The border is the foundation of the puzzle, as is understanding pre-swing fundamentals such as grip, ball position, posture, alignment and stance. These are the building blocks to success. Once the border is complete, the puzzle-maker focuses on specific scenes within the puzzle from which to build. In golf, once the pre-swing fundamentals are mastered, we then begin to focus on different specific parts of the swing. At this time I pay particular attention to the simple weight shift motion to the swing. Does the weight shift have a natural flow as we coordinate the backswing, downswing, through swing and follow through sequence. As the puzzle becomes more intense and specific, so does the study of the golf swing. We now begin to pay closer attention to swing mechanics and positions such as swing plane, the resistance principle, dynamic balance and footwork. When all the parts begin to come together, there is no better feeling. There is tremendous reward waiting for those who stay patient and steadfast in their determination to become a better golfer. The ultimate reward is a lifetime of enjoyment.
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE VICIOUS CYCLE
EXAMPLE: At least 80% of all the lessons I give involve correcting the dreaded over-the-top, outside-in swing. This swing typically results in a weak fade to the right (right-handed golfer), or a pull to the left. It totally depends on how the hands, which control the clubface, are positioned at impact. If the hands are opening the clubface at impact the ball will fly right. If the hands are closing the clubface at impact, the ball will fly left. A common culprit of the over-the-top swing fault is poor tempo where the upper body begins the downswing before the lower body. This tends to open the shoulders on the downswing, sending the hands and arms out away from the body, resulting in a swing that then pulls across your body. The faster you swing, the easier it is to swing more over-the-top. Once we slow the upper body, creating better tempo on the downswing, contact and ball flight improves. Your scores begin to lower. This is the time to continue working on ingraining these successful thoughts and feelings through practice and repetition. However, the tendency that I see so often is that the student says, “Now that I’m playing better and my scores and handicap are getting lower, I want to start hitting the ball farther. I think if I can only hit it a little farther, I can go lower.” This greedy mentality begins the vicious cycle of coming over-the-top again when we try to swing faster. The training process starts all over again in an attempt to get the club back on plane.
THERE ARE THREE FACTORS THAT ALLOW US TO HIT THE BALL FARTHER
CLUBHEAD SPEED – The faster we swing at an object, the farther it will fly, provided;
CENTERNESS OF IMPACT – we must make contact in the center of the clubface
ANGLE OF ATTACK – The clubface must impact the ball in a square position
All three of these factors must be in place to create maximum distance for our ability. Even if you swing the club as fast as Tiger Woods and hit the ball in the center of the clubface, but the clubface was open at impact creating a glancing blow, you still haven’t created maximum efficiency.