The Slow Golf Swing

This conversation occurred between me and my wife after I got back from hitting a golf ball around the big field near my house with a 6-iron.

Me: I learned something today, for the umpteenth time, and maybe this time I’ll remember it. But I’m never sure.

Wife: And what would that be?

Me: We, and by that I mean every golfer living, wants to hit the ball a long way.

Wife: What’s wrong with that? I would want to do that if I played golf. Which I don’t.

Me: But which you will someday, knock on wood. The thing is, we keep thinking to hit the ball far, we have to hit hard. That means swing hard. In reality, all we have to do is put a swing on the ball, with the distance the designer built into the club, and we get all the distance we need.

Wife: In other words, stop trying so hard to make it happen.

Me: Yep.

Wife: And you’re still learning this after having played golf for how long?

Me: Sixty years this coming June, but that’s beside the point. It just seems natural to want to hit hard, We try not to, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s like we don’t trust the swing and the club to get the job done. It’s so effortless when you do it right that we really can’t believe it.

Wife: So why don’t you just say to yourself you’re going to swing easier, then do that?

Me: I do. And I suppose other golfers do, too. I take the club back easy, but when I finish my backswing and am about to start the club forward, I think, “HIT THE BALL!” and all my self-restraint goes out the window.

Wife: Maybe you could tell yourself something at that point other than “Hit the ball.”

Me: That’s right, and that’s what I did. Right before I started the club forward, I said to myself, “Center of the clubface.” Or rather, I thought that, because it’s quicker to think that than to say it. But it worked out the same. In this shorthand way, I replaced one conscious thought with a different conscious thought. You have to be thinking about something, and it’s just as easy to think about the right thing as it is the wrong thing. What this did is prevent me from adding that little extra something that doesn’t add, but subtracts. Now my swing was slower, but it wasn’t deliberately slow. I let my unconscious mind take over and it made me swing only so fast that I would be able to get that center hit, which is slower than my “hit” instinct wants. But, boy, did it work. Straight, great ball flight, and all the distance I want out of my 6-iron. It turns a power swing into a finesse swing that has power.

Wife: So you finally have it figured out? This time for sure?

Me: Yes, at least until the next time I hit golf balls. When I’ll have to “discover” this all over again. And I’ll come home and tell you all about it like it’s the first time. Again.

Your 2019 Guaranteed Swing Improvement Plan

There are roughly 25 million recreational golfers in the United States. Thus, there are 25 million different golf swings. I try to put things in these posts that can be used by the greatest number of golfers, but I have no illusions that every swing will benefit from a particular post.

Except this one.

I promise you, no matter who you are, if you work on these two things, which can fit into ANY golf swing, you will see greater improvement than by working on any other swing thing.

Long-time readers of this blog already know what I’m going to say, but if you’re one of those and you haven’t worked on them yet …

If you’re new to the blog, read carefully. Magic coming up.

First: Get your tempo right. Swing tempo is the overall speed of the swing—how long it takes the clubhead to get from takeaway back to impact.

➙ Swing the club only as fast as you can to hit the ball consistently on the center of the clubface.

If you swing faster than that, golf is just one mishit after another. You lose distance and you lose accuracy.

You might have to slow down your swing a bit to get to the center, but that will be more than made up for because the key to distance and accuracy is (drum roll) hitting the ball on the center of the clubface.

Second: The clubhead must approach impact properly, and there is only one way for that to happen.

➙ Your hands must be ahead of the clubhead at impact. Your hands must lead the clubhead into impact. The hands must pass the ball ahead of the clubhead. However you want to say it.

Every good golfer does this. No bad golfer does it. It’s as simple as that.

See this post on learning how to do this.

If you spend a few months learning these two points, and get good at them, it will be like you’re playing a different game.

Ben Hogan said, “The average golfer’s problem is not so much a lack of ability as it is a lack of knowing he [and “she”] should do.”

This is what to do.

There’s More to Aim Than You Think There Is

Last week we talked about getting into your setup using two lines, one for the clubface and one for your stance. These lines are shown in the two photos below.

They were taken in the street in front of my house so the aiming points in the background would be easier to see. Though it doesn’t look like it in the photographs, the two sticks are parallel to each other.

Look at the photo on the right (click to enlarge). The alignment stick is pointed at the white chimney. This is the ball’s target, toward which the clubface is aimed.

The alignment stick in the photo on the left is in the place where you would stand to hit the shot (click to enlarge). It is pointing at the edge of the house.

Yes, I know the sticks are only a few feet a part and if you extended them to the house they would still be a few feet a part. What is important here is appearance, not reality.

If you look downrange before you start your swing, you have to look at the right target. That is the one you are aimed at, not the one the clubface is aimed at.

If you look at the ball’s target, you create a conflict in your mind. Your body is a lined up in one direction (the edge of the house), but your mind is looking in a different direction (the chimney).

As a result, there will be a subtle confusion about where to direct your swing. This creates a discomfort which can be interpreted as a swing technique thing, even though that is not where the problem lies.

When you’re in your stance, ready to take the club back, take one more look down the fairway. Look at where your body is aimed, a place to the left of the ball’s target, because that is the direction the swinging motion of your body, standing to the left of the ball, will be directed toward.

If you swing toward that spot, the clubhead, which is displaced to the right of where you are standing, will automatically be swung toward the ball’s target.

Most of all, the the conflict I referred to above never arise. Only a feeling of confidence will be felt. That leads to your best swing coming out, and thus your best shots.

How to Get Into Your Setup

There’s a lot written about how you should set up for a swing. Details about grip, stance, posture, ball position, and aim are all very important.

But the process of getting into that setup deserves mention, too. Here is one way to do it. It is the way I do it and it works well.

1. Set your grip on the club with both hands. Make sure your hands are oriented properly.

2. Stand behind the ball on a straight a line from the target across the ball to your eyes.

3. Take a side-step to the left, still looking straight ahead, but now at a spot to the left of the target.

4. Walk straight toward that spot, looking at it the entire time.

5. When you get next to the ball, and while still looking at the spot, turn your body to face the ball.

6. Now you may turn your head to face the ball, get into your stance, and drop the clubhead behind the ball with good posture.

You are aimed and ready to go.

Note that item 4 has two parts to it. One, you are looking at the spot to the left of the target, not the target itself. Two, you look at that spot the entire time you are approaching the ball and getting into your stance. Do not take your eyes off that spot too soon or you will lose the line.

You might think this method is imprecise. Most books will tell you to aim the clubhead first and then align your body to it. That, actually, is the imprecise way to aim yourself.

We have a keen human sense of aligning ourselves to a distant point that we can take advantage of here. You can learn how to align yourself this way with just a little practice.

Next week I will have another post that extends this method to complete the setup mentally.

Why You Should Slow Down Your Golf Swing

One of the best comments I ever read on a golf forum was to “slow down your swing and learn to live with the extra distance you get.” The reason eluded me until recently.

I got the November 2019 copy of Golf Digest magazine. You know, the magazine that has playing tips every month that work for world-class professionals, but not for you?

Here’s one that did work, and it was from Daniel Berger. He said you’re never going to get the distance you’re due until you learn to hit the ball off the center of the clubface, and he gave us a drill to work on that.

He said to hit balls with your 7-iron (everybody’s favorite club) at 30 percent of your normal swing speed until you start connecting with the center of the clubface consistently. Then move up to 50 percent, then 70 percent.

He also mentioned you would be surprised at how far the ball goes even with those slow swings if you hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

That rang true to me, so I went to the driving range I live next door to. Actually it’s not driving range, but the Oregon State Fairgrounds. It has a big field that is used for a parking lot that is 560 yards long and 235 yards wide. I go there every day and hit a few balls.

So I went out there with a 7-iron and a few golf balls to try this tip, swinging at what I felt to be 30 percent. Slowing down that much is harder than it sounds, but I think I got it.

Wow. Triple wow.

Berger is exactly right. Slowing down the swing makes it easy to get centered contact and when you do, the ball flies off the center of the clubface, and goes farther than you could imagine it would.

I’m working up slowly to a faster speed, but only so fast that I can still make contact on the center of the clubface.

I my Living Golf Book, I define tempo as “the fastest you can swing through impact and consistently hit solid shots off the center of the clubface.” Berger’s drill is a fantastic way to find that tempo. (Yes, I’ll be revising LGB accordingly for December 1.)

Try it. You’ll find that tempo doesn’t have to be very fast to hit shots that go straight (slowing down your swing takes the tension out of it, which is what introduces many of your swing errors) and to a distance I know you can live with.

Golf Rules Changes for 2019

There are a host of new rules changes coming on line on January 1, 2019. They are not tweaks. They are wholesale changes that you need to know about. To put it mildly, much of what you know now about rules will be wrong.

Thanks go to the USGA for making it easy for me figure out what to write about this week.

These are a few of the easy ones, followed by the rule number. Remember, they’re effective as of January 1, 2019. Not until then.

1. There is no penalty if your ball played from the putting green (or anywhere else) hits the unattended flagstick in the hole. 13.2a(2)

2. When you have to drop a ball, your ball must be let go from knee height (instead of shoulder height) and fall through the air without touching any part of your body or equipment. 14.3

3. Your ball is lost if it is not found in three minutes (rather than the current 5 minutes). 18.2

4. If you declare your ball unplayable in a bunker, relief is allowed outside the bunker for two penalty strokes. 19.3b

5. The use of distance-measuring devices will be allowed unless a Local Rule has been adopted prohibiting their use. 4.3

6. If your club accidentally strikes your ball more than once during a stroke, there will be no penalty and your ball will be played as it lies. 10.1a

7. For all of you who thought it was so lame for some of the best players in the world (see the LPGA Tour) to have their caddies confirm their alignment, you’ll be happy to know this will be prohibited. 10.2b(4)

8. The out-of-bounds penalty no longer needs to be stroke and distance, but that’s not a given, and the drop procedure is complicated. See the USGA web site, referenced below.

There’s more. A lot more. If you want to see all the new rules, go to the USGA web site. They have clearly written explantations and videos which really do a good job of explaining the changes.

Hinging Your Wrists

The wrists break, or hinge, in two ways in the golf swing.

Put your palms together with your fingers pointing away from you. Now hinge your wrists so your thumbs point back toward you. This is vertical hinging, which every golfer does.

Set up your hands like you did before and this time hinge your wrists from side to side. This is horizontal hinging, which fewer golfers do.

The complete golf swing must include both types of hinging.

Vertical hinging takes care of itself. That’s why every golfer does it. Horizontal hinging must be deliberately done.

When you take the club back, and your hands get to about hip height or a bit before that, start bending the right wrist (left wrist for left-handed golfers) back on itself.

Don’t do it all at once, and finish the hinging by the end of the backswing in a position that is comfortable. You will feel the bend, but it should not feel forced.

When you begin the forward swing, preserve your gain. Keep that wrist hinge as you start down. Let the momentum of the swing release all hinging as the club swings into the ball.

This is one way of generating club head speed. It’s free, you don’t have to force it. Just enjoy it.

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