Your Golf Has to Travel

A few days ago I got a wake-up call. I was doing business at an end of town I don’t spend a lot of time in, but which has a driving range nearby. So I took along a putter and a ball to get a little practice in before I went back home.

I get all of my putting practice on the green at the range where I normally go to. If you saw me putt on this green, you would say that I’m a very good putter. I make putts from all over the place, and I go around the putting clock and never three-putt.

Well.

On this new green, I couldn’t do a thing right. I was three-putting from twenty-five feet about half the time, it was hit-and-miss with four-footers, and my distance control was just nowhere.

I realized that I putted so well on my usual green not because of things that I thought made me a good putter. They didn’t have anything to do with it.

I had merely unconsciously memorized the green. That’s it. So when I went to this new green, I didn’t have the skills to handle the differences in green speed and contour.

I play the same courses, and I putt very well on them, because I have memorized their greens. It all adds up to having become lazy.

An under-appreciated aspect of the way Tour pros play the game is that their golf travels. They play different courses every week, that require different shots, that provide different responses to the shot, and you know what? They don’t care! The adapt after a practice round or two and it’s off to the birdie-fest.

You improve and become a Golfer by having skills that hold up under any condition. Looks like I have some work to do. How about you?

Golf’s Most Important Two Inches

You’re never going to hear the end of this from me. It’s the most important swing fundamental there is. Your hands have to lead the clubhead.

A few weeks ago, I changed it to, the handle moves in harmony with the clubhead. Too wordy.

How about the handle leads the clubhead?

Whatever you call it, you see it demonstrated here by our new U.S. Open champion, Brooks Koepka. His hands got to the ball before the clubhead did. Not by much, only about two inches. But that’s all it needs to be.

Brooks Koepka at impact

If you’re not used to swinging through this position, it feels like your hands are two feet ahead of the clubhead, but they’re not. They’re ahead by just a little bit. But it’s the most important little bit in golf.

External Focus in Golf

A few weeks ago, while cruising around the web, I found out about external vs. internal focus in learning motor skills, especially related to golf. It goes right to the core of what you need to think you’re doing when you are taught something, learning it by yourself, or even practicing something you already know how to do.

The difference between internal and external focus is simple. Internal focus involves instructions for moving body parts–what you need to do. External focus, in golf, revolves around what the club needs to do. Then you do what ever you have to to get that result. (The ghost of Ernest Jones is nodding his head.)

Listen to this podcast.

Subjects who had never hit a golf ball before were taught grip, stance, and posture for a pitch shot. Then the subjects were split into two groups.

The internal focus group (IFG) was taught how their arms move, bend, and straighten at various points in the swing. The external focus group (EFG) was taught how the club swings like a pendulum. When swinging the club they were to “focus on the weight of the clubhead, the straight-line direction of the clubhead path, and the acceleration of the clubhead moving toward the bottom of the arc.”

After practicing what they were taught, all subjects hit blocks of ten golf balls each to a target 50 feet away. Outcomes were measured by how close the ball landed to the center of the target.

The results were that the (EGF) performed significantly better than (IFG). As the trials proceeded, both groups improved, but the IFG never caught up to the EFG. The EFG recorded good scores more frequently, and lower scores less frequently, than the IFG.

Remember a few months ago when I suggested that you you think of the chipping stroke as brushing the ground with the sole of the club? Little did I know that was external focus.

What does this mean for you? Everything. It means you’ll learn faster when you practice like this–working on what the club is supposed to do, not what you’re supposed to do. It means when you play, if there is a swing thought in your head (which I don’t recommend at all), it needs to be about what the club is doing and not about you.

Six Fundamentals

The Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing pages (SF Left and SF Right) are now public pages. The password protection has been removed.

Be watching for my next opus, Bob’s Little Golf Book, to be published on this site in June.

Dawdling on the Putting Green

I have to be honest with you. If you have a 20-foot putt, your chances of sinking it are really small. Tiny. PGA pros sink about one out of ten of them. Your results might be half that.

What you should be thinking about is how to get down in two putts from twenty feet (or more), because amateurs are more likely to take three putts from longer distances than one.

So first, stop spending so much time reading the green and getting what you think is the exact line to the hole, which, unless you are very good at reading greens, it isn’t.

Just get a general idea of whether it breaks right or left, and especially of what it does around the hole. You can get all that standing beside your ball and taking a brief look.

Regarding distance, if you practice approach putting every time you go to the range, you will have a good sense of how to cover the distance as soon as you see what it is.

All that shouldn’t take very long at all, maybe fifteen seconds. Then step up to the ball, line up the putter, and go.

No time to worry, no time to second-guess yourself.

You see, the pros on TV aren’t really our model for what to do on the green. They have thousands of dollars riding on sinking every putt they look at, and since they’re good enough to do that just often enough, they take their time.

We, however, are barking up the wrong tree by imitating them. By making a putt less of a production, I believe you actually stand a good chance of putting better, and you will certainly spend less time on the green, which the groups behind you will appreciate.

(Then there’s the endless tweaking to line up the line you drew on your ball with the starting line of the putt. From 30 feet? Please!)

Ranting much this week? Maybe just a little, but not without good reason.

A Few Golf Things

Not a very catchy title, is it? I couldn’t think of what else to call this post and still build in a little SEO. So no great ideas this week, just a few things I’ve been fiddling with, and a story.

1. Practice your putting stroke at home, maybe ten or so strokes a day. Not a lot, just enough to keep the feeling of how you do it from slipping away. Putt a ball to a target while doing this. I use a jar opener for a target. You can get one at a grocery store. It’s a thin sheet of rubber about five inches on a side, with a lot of raised bumps. If you trace out a circle on it using a 24-oz. can of tomatoes as your guide, you can cut out a “hole” just about 4¼” in diameter. You can also take this ersatz hole to the practice green and drop it where you want a hole to be, if the ones already cut out aren’t where you want to putt/chip to.

2. Lately I have taken to swinging a 7-iron in my living room late at night with the lights out. Don’t worry, you won’t hit the ceiling. Just make sure you’re clear of ceiling-mounted light fixtures. Swinging in the dark will improve your balance, since you don’t have the visual cues you normally use to stay in balance. It also slows down your swing so you’re actually swinging, not clobbering.

3. A little thought I’ve been using for a while concerning the driver is a way to make sure the clubhead is moving upward when it contacts the ball. Before I address the ball I think not about hitting it square on the back, but a bit below that, on the underside. Now I know that’s not possible, but it does give the unconscious mind a way to tell the body how to hit the ball with the clubhead on the rise. Make sure as well your hands lead the clubhead. By all means turn off the conscious mind when you swing. Just a smidgen of thinking about hitting under the ball will ruin the effort.

4. Once at the range my son asked me to hit a ball as hard as I could. I think I had a 6-iron or so in my hand. So I did, and it went a long way. Then, I said, “Watch this.” I put my normal swing on the ball, which doesn’t have any “hit” in, and the ball went five yards less. How much can you slow down your swing with a particular club and still get the same distance out of it? Try it.

Actually, I didn’t really hit the first ball as hard as I could. I did that another time while playing in a 4-club tournament. I was 170 yards from the green. I had a 7-iron, my 140-yard club, and a 19* hybrid, my 200-yard club, in the bag. I didn’t want to ease up on the hybrid, because you can really hit a terrible shot that way. So I had to clobber the 7. I stood beside the ball for about a minute, psyching myself to swing as hard as I could, yet still control the strike. I swung, connected, and the ball took off and landed on the green. I put the 7-iron back in the bag and promised myself I would never, ever do that again.

Spine Health at the Range

I was browsing through my hard drive a few days ago when I found an article about spine loads during a golf swing. Since I have a delicate lower back, I thought I would read this article again to see if had missed anything when I read it the first time some years ago. Indeed, I had.

While loads on the lumbar (lower) spine are considerable during the swing, especially in the late downswing, they are not damaging. The caveat is that the discs between the vertebra are viscoelastic and time-rate dependent.

This means they deform when stressed (viscoelastic) and need time to get back to their original shape (time rate dependent). The article noted that “accumulated stress due to repeated swings may lead to disc degeneration, and even submaximal exertions may lead to structural deformation of the lumbar spine.”

What they’re telling us not to do is hit one ball after the other like there’s a race going on. Maybe your back doesn’t feel sore after you do that, but you are putting undue stress on it in any event and not letting it recover. It you do hit balls rapid fire and you do feel your back getting a little sore, that’s a big warning sign.

All of us should hit balls slowly. Rest between each shot. Take some time to review in your mind why the ball you just hit did what it did, and what you want to do with your next swing. Or take a few easy partial swings to rehearse a move you’re working on. Then hit another ball.

At the range, when it is possible to take a swing every fifteen seconds, instead of every five minutes, like out on the course, slow down. It can only help to keep your lower back healthy while playing a sport that challenges it.

A New Approach to Approach Putting

A few days ago, I commented to my wife of 34 years, “I tend to think differently than other people do.” She said, “Oh, I hadn’t noticed.”

Well, here’s my newest unique, never-before-heard-of idea. At least I’ve never heard of it. It has to do with approach putting, or even putting in general, but its highest use would be in approach putting.

Right off, I’m going to tell you this idea is based on logic, not experience. I have not spent several years testing out this new idea with hundreds of golfers, as I have with all my other bright ideas, before I share them with you.

(Right.)

But here it is. The problem of approach putting is distance control. That problem breaks down into two parts. One part is developing the sense of how to putt the ball different distances. I have addressed that problem with this video tip, and I still stand by it.

The other part is developing a putting stroke that is consistent, thus removing itself as a variable from part one. You do this by hitting the ball off the same spot of the putterface every time. It can be any spot, as long as it’s always the same one, but the sweet spot is best. The rebound is robust and it thus takes less effort to send the ball a given distance.

So my brilliant idea is (here it comes), vary the distance you hit a putt by making a short same-length stroke faster or slower, and not by making a same-speed stroke longer or shorter. Keeping the stroke short and the same length makes it easier to hit the intended spot on the putterface consistently. Different speeds of stroke will necessarily impart more or less energy to the ball, and the ball will go different distances. It’s that simple.

Be very careful about what I said here. I said to have a faster or slower stroke, which makes putterhead speed the distance generator. I did not say hit the ball harder or softer, which implies doing something with your hands, probably your right hand.

Now. Full disclosure. I have tried this in my back room a few times to learn how long to make the stroke. Twelve to fifteen inches, somewhere around there, will do. I have tried this on the practice green one time to see how it works in in real life. (I came up with this idea only several days ago.) I put a foot-long ruler on the ground beside the ball to ensure the length of the stroke was constant. All I can say is that the method shows promise.

If you want to try it, go ahead. It’s just an attempt at a solution to a difficult problem. Maybe it will work. If so, you heard it here first. If not, well, never mind.

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play