Being a better golfer is not just improving the golf swing. It is about being prepared to play before, during, and after the round.
Make a PLAN or understand what requirements are critical for you to play well. That may mean arriving at the golf course at least 2 hours prior to a round. Staying mentally relaxed and alert means not physically rushing or creating anxiety to detract our attention and focus from the objective we have – to play our best from start to finish.
How long does it take to warm up prior to a round. While it varies for everyone it has to be within a time frame that allows the golfer to practice each component in that relaxed and mentally focused environment. Drive time to course is 20-30 minutes, arrival arrangements in pro shop etcetera is 15 minutes, warm up exercise on range is 10-15 minutes, hitting shots/finding rhythm is 30-45 minutes, putting is 15 minutes, chipping is 15 minutes. Allow another 15 minutes for cool down and organizational check of supplies, drinks, etcetera and you are now ready to approach the first tee.
The second preparation is develop a STRATEGY. Do you have a swing thought? Did you set a goal/s? Do you play better when your walk or ride? What and when do I eat or drink (do I bring my own or can I purchase it)? How will I decide to play the tough/easy holes? What are the environmental conditions and will that affect my mental state of mind (sunscreen, hat, bug spray, rain gear, warm clothing)? What is the best club to use on each hole based on my abilities and course design?
The third preparation is to EVALUATE results. Was score or process more important? What is your most consistent miss location/shot? How many greens do you hit/miss and where? How many putts per round and what are your consistent misses (long, short, high side/low side)? What do you eat/drink after a round to rehydrate and rejuvenate the body after 6 miles of walking? What plans will you make to correct some of the errors from this round to the next? Do you know the source and/or have a strategy for correction?
Improving your GAME, SWING or SCORE requires preparation. It requires a change to habitual behavior that is not currently producing the desired performance results. It is not just about hitting better drives off the tee box but about how we prepare to hit better drives.
It’s about our MENTAL FOCUS TO THE GAME OF GOLF.
There are 2 separate reasons for practice.
- Swing Management
Practicing to improve golf swing mechanics is done on the range. This is where you use the tools or accessories at your disposal to focus attention on improving a specific aspect of your golf swing. It is intensive and determined to exchange one movement for another. That could be learning a movement for the first time, improving an existing movement, or changing one movement for another. Each takes time and repetition to achieve integration and performance results.
The primary objective is to understand the feeling of movement in a new or correct swing. It is NOT to evaluate performance on how far or straight a ball goes. In fact, we should expect poor performance more than we anticipate improved performance.
Practice should only be done with short irons (PW, SW, 9 iron) to slow down movement and allow time to mentally feel the movement. The faster one moves the less feel is generated.
Practice should always be done to a specific target. The smaller the target is the sharper the focus becomes.
It should also be done using alignment tools to show ball line and ball position. This way one gets to understand body position alignment relative to the target line and ball position between the feet with different clubs.
Simply throwing balls down and hitting them to a general target is foundationally regressive and destructive to the idea of improving the golf swing. Not having a plan, a goal, or a strategy of how to achieve improvement is only reinforcing the already bad swing, performance, and game habits we so desperately want to improve.
We never practice when we play unless we are playing to practice.
The second reason we practice is to develop rhythm. This is the flow and speed of the golf swing. It has nothing to do with how fast we play.
Since we are all human and feel things differently the feel we have for our golf swing will probably vary from day to day. The purpose of practice is to determine the best flow we generate for best performance.
Establishing rhythm starts with the shortest irons and works up to the driver. You never see a good amateur or professional start hitting balls at the range with a driver. EVER! They start with short wedges to develop feel and rhythm. It’s an awakening of the body to the game of golf about to be played. They then work toward a mid- iron, long iron, and end with the driver. Each one is focused on building a consistent flow, speed, or rhythm to the golf swing. There is no thought process for distance or power.
One could apply the variable of mechanics to this part of the practice routine but the primary focus is still the rhythm of the golf swing as it currently exists. This could change as the mechanics improve because the body will be doing less or different work than previous and this will impact the rhythm dramatically.
When do we apply both forms of practice?
Swing Mechanics are never practiced before a game. We establish swing conditions or thoughts prior to hitting balls before a game but don’t dwell on specific details that create mental tension whether at the driving range or putting green.
Developing Rhythm by awakening our body to a game of golf is the only reason we hit balls before a game. Develop feel and not mental tension and strain with exhaustive thoughts of how mechanics work. Focus on feel and not Hit, Result, Mechanics. It will relax you and result in better shots.
We all want to make a 1 putt but many times end up with 3 putting. It is frustrating to say the least but, easily fixable and manageable. That doesn’t mean you will never 3 putt again. Just that it doesn’t have to be as often as it is now.
Putting has its own set of skill challenges. Uphill, downhill, fast, slow, wet, dry, and of course distance variables to contend with. On top of that we have the mechanics of putting which vary from those of the regular shots to some degree. But even if we leave mechanics where they are the ability to change the performance results of our putting can be easily altered.
You can take any distance but better to start with a short distance so we get to feel and see movement more readily. So let’s take a 10 foot putt straight to the hole. Think of the equation Length of swing + Speed of swing = distance ball moves. So your question to be answered is: what swing length with what swing speed equals 10 feet?
Place a tee in the ground as the starting point (A) and the hole is (B). Knowing that the backswing is half the length of the forward swing you need to find the length and speed that leaves your golf ball at point B. When you can consistently achieve this distance then simply increase the length to 15, 20, 25 feet and so on to develop feel for longer lengths. You will notice that the swing length gets longer in both directions (still maintaining the ratio) but the speed still remains relatively constant with little to no change.
The 10 foot benchmark putt is the guide for all other putts of any distance. It simply means getting used to swinging longer without changing the speed. Then you need to learn to adjust this procedure for the different green variables. Downhill is faster so it reduces the length of swing and conversely uphill will be slower and increases the need for more length of the swing.
Try this and you will stop guessing how hard to hit the putt and start knowing how long to swing the golf club.
What does tai chi have to do with golf? Lots!
One of the primary elements of the golf swing is BALANCE. It is also foundational to all martial arts, including Tai Chi. Moving weight or positioning from one foot to the other is always done in balance. In Tai Chi we think of feet as EMPTY and FULL. As one foot is lifted (empty) the other becomes full. So too in the golf swing as we shift weight to the backswing and create a full position on the trail foot the target foot is being emptied.
As the movement shifts in the downswing to the target the empty foot must be replanted first (become full) before the trail foot can lift and rotate to the finish position. Movement in Tai Chi must always have the empty foot become full before the full foot can become empty. This is what keeps the body in balance at all times for movement to be powerful and efficient.
Martial Arts also teach CENTER LINE for balance and power. In the golf swing this is the line of the spine. The more the spine angle is maintained in the golf swing the greater the power and performance results. In Tai Chi this center line is attached to the center of the hip with all movement and power emanating from that core area. The more movement is attached to the body through the center line the greater the efficiency and strength. In golf, the more we allow our body to randomly move or sway from our center line the more erratic our performance.
Further, Tai Chi shows us Internal Strength and External Softness. Tai Chi focuses on developing internal strength of mind and body. This inner chi prevalent within everyone is used to exert the external power of movement. Contrary to most modern day enthusiasts where the goal is to develop external hardness, the role of tai chi is to exert external softness. The same is true in golf.
While we think of golf in terms of Grip It and Rip It hardness and strength it really is a game of gentle motions and softness in movement. Internally we are calm and strong in mind and posture while externally we are soft and supple giving us the freedom to move powerfully and freely. Putting, chipping, and pitching are all soft parts of the game requiring no use of power but rather balance and technique. To hit the ball longer means we need to relax more so we can generate greater club head speed through impact rather than trying to create more body speed to hit the ball.
Tai Chi is not just good physically but equally if not more mentally. It teaches us discipline and focus which are two of the main coordinates of playing better golf. It teaches us to focus internally more than externally where we are all visually impaired. See yourself from within rather than beyond.
X’s and O’s
No, it’s not all love and kisses, the alphabet, geometry or football. But golf really is about X’s and O’s.
Look at a golfer face on at address. What do you see? You see a person made up of 2 triangles or a large X. The upper torso is comprised of the shoulders, arms and hands joined by a pivot at the base of the neck or at the top of the chest bone. That triangle is the golf swing with the target arm being the full golf swing.
The lower body is comprised of the hips and legs placed in position by the attachment of the feet to the ground. This triangle gives the entire body its balance and feel.
These two triangles are joined together at the core to form one large X. In the golf swing the upper X portion turns against and with the lower X portion. Or you can envision the Northern Hemisphere turning against the Southern Hemisphere along the equator (belt or core line).
When looking at the same golfer envision 2 circles or O’s during the swing. One is the horizontal O that the lower X portion is doing. This is the rotation of the hips in the backswing and forward swing that is parallel to the ground. The other O is the “vertical O.” This is the one you make during the golf swing and is commonly referred to as the swing plane. While it is not truly vertical it is distinctly different in direction than that followed by the lower body.
Both triangles are conjoined at the base of the hip through our spine. To remain balanced during the swing the base of the upper triangle and the top of the lower triangle must be positioned and balanced at the same point. This pivot point in the golf swing is critical to developing consistent golf swings and performance results. It is the center point of the X.
The next time you are practicing on the range think about the X’s and O’s.
THE 4 QUADRANTS OF THE GOLF SWING
Take a ruler and draw a line north/south and intersect it in the middle with a line east/west.
These are the 4 quadrants of your golf swing. Why are they important? Because some are active, some are passive, some do more work, some less, and some move more than others. Each is vital in its own region of the golf swing.
Why the quadrants are important is because they highlight the most active regions of the swing in relation to the others and which is the active and passive side of the body. Understanding these characteristics focuses attention more readily to selective regions rather than wasteful energies on areas requiring no adjustment.
Fix the active side and regions and the passive ones will fall into place
STOP ELBOW SWINGING
The vast majority of amateur golfers swing from the elbow to the hands. No good amateur or golf professional ever swings from their elbows. NEVER.
If you have read any of my articles you will know the golf swing is a triangle of shoulders, arms, and hands. Each component is dependent on the other to complete a swing and must do the job required of it.
The shoulders are fixed and attached at a pivot point at the base of the neck. This will never change. The target arm is the length of the golf swing as established at address. It hangs from the target shoulder just underneath and slightly behind the chin. The length of this arm cannot change until the swing is almost at its finished position of the follow through. The trail arm forms a 90 degree position in the backswing at about 3 or 9 o’clock, depending on whether you are a right or left handed player. It does not change from this position until it gets to slightly into and after impact when it will assume a full length position as it moves up in the follow through and the target arm is collapsing into the 90 degree position (a reverse of positions for both arms).
By engaging the hands and giving them the power and control of the club and golf swing you enable the elbows to become active and complicit in the breakdown of the golf swing. Once they are active the shoulders become inactive which further complicates and emboldens the use of the elbows and hands. When the shoulders stop turning the target elbow needs to collapse in order for the club to get to parallel thus breaking down the arms strong elongated position set at address.
If the swing is lifted and not turned that lifting will automatically force the target elbow to collapse and shots will sail weakly left for left handers or right for right handers.
Throw a ball underhand using only your forearm and then one using the arm from shoulder down to hand. Not only do you have more control but more force and length. That is the difference between those who swing with elbows and those who swing with shoulders because using the shoulders to swing engages the entire unit accompanied by the full use of the body to generate more power.
Want to be a better player. Swing the Triangle, not the Elbows.