How the Golf Club Behaves During Your Swing

During the golf swing, the shaft bends in so many ways and in so many places that we wonder how the ball can be hit straight. But it all works out. Read this description of something that looks simple only when we see it at high speed.

The clubhead of an iron weighs about eight ounces. The entire golf club weighs about fourteen. When the club moves away from the ball, the flexible shaft gets ahead the movement of the clubhead; that is, the shaft bends in a concave direction in regard to the target. The clubhead remains in this lagging position throughout the backswing.

At the top of the backswing the clubhead catches up again just before the reversal of direction the swing. But as before, when the clubs starts swinging down, the heavy clubhead gets left behind, bending the shaft again, but in the opposite way than it bent at takeaway.

The downswing accelerates the clubhead, whereas the backswing it was decelerating. At some point in the downswing, the accelerating clubhead passes the shaft, causing the shaft to bend in the opposite direction, a concave shape relative to the target, as the clubhead approaches the ball.

The clubhead now behaves as if it were a freewheeling object. This bending of the shaft causes the clubface to be closed at impact by about 2 degrees. In addition to being bent a bit backwards, the shaft also bends downward, somewhat like a fishing pole bent downward by the weight of the lures tied to the line.

This downward bending causes the lie of the club to flatten out, and must be taken into account when the lie of the club is determined during club-fitting. The amount of the bend can between from 1 to 3 degrees, depending on shaft flex and clubhead speed.

So again, we manage to hit the ball straight in spite of this high-speed noodling. Knowing this makes golf a little more interesting, but don’t get caught up in all of it when you swing. Let this be something that keeps club designers awake at night.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

Gotta Know the Rules!

Tiger Woods got socked with a two-stroke penalty for taking an illegal drop in the Abu Dhabi tournament last weekend. If he had been reading the rules review in this blog last summer, Woods would have known that you can take a drop from an embedded lie through the green only if the ball is in a closely-mown area (Rule 25-2), which his was not.

What’s worse, his playing partner, Martin Kaymer, didn’t know the rule, either.

So as not to be as inexcusably ignorant as the best players in the world, why not do a rules review of your own?

You can start with the first post concerning the teeing ground. Or click on Rules in the label listing and away you go.

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Consistent Golf

People say they want their golf to be consistent, but I think they really mean predictable. When you swing identically every time, you will have attained that goal. Though we can never do that, we can get close by learning what it means to swing identically.

Begin with a simple greenside chip, that has maybe a three-foot backswing. Learn to strike the ball identically every time with that simple stroke. Be very strict when it comes to judging your strike. Identical means similar in every detail, exactly alike. Really close doesn’t count.

Is the feeling in your hands that contact makes identical? Is the sound of contact identical? Do you hit just a bit thin or a bit heavy?

You know what identical means. The more rigorously you apply the concept to this exercise, the more demanding you are of perfection, you more will get out of it.

Big hint: this whole thing is a mental challenge, not a physical one.

Generally, the first two or three chips you hit will be identical, because your conscious mind has not gotten engaged yet. But when the thinking mind takes over, trying to hit identical shots, it all falls to pieces.

At first, you weren’t trying. You just swing and identicality (now there’s a word!) just happened. The practice is to keep hitting using the unthinking mind that you used at the start, to not let that change. The goal of this exercise is not to make your stroke predictable, but to make your mind predictable.

If your mind gets used in the right way, every time, the ball-striking it leads to will be predictable. The reason it’s not isn’t because you haven’t hit 10,000 golf balls. It’s because you haven’t trained your mind not to change with every swing.

That’s hard to do, but infinitely rewarding when you learn to do it.

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How to Think About Clubhead Speed

Though several factors are more important than clubhead speed in hitting the ball a long way, we must not neglect it. The problem is that most golfers think to get more speed they have to swing the club harder (harder=faster). Let’s look first at the speed that is built into the club and see if this is really necessary.

Watch a record turning on a record player. Or, if you don’t have a record player handy, remember what that one looked like. Or, if you’ve never seen a record player, just go with me on this.

A 12” long-playing record, turns at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. Every part of the record, from the outside edge to the part right next to the spindle in the center, turns at that same rate.

The very edge of the record turns at approximately 21” per second. A spot one-half inch from the center only has to move at 1-3/4” per second. Because these two spots have to cover different distances in the same time, they move at different speeds, in order to travel at the same rate.

Over to golf. A 9-iron is generally 35-3/4” long. A driver is 43” long. If you swing these two clubs at the same rate, the clubheads will travel at different speeds.

Think of the driver’s clubhead as reaching to the edge of the record. A point representing the relative length of a 9-iron would travel at 17.3” per second, a bit over eighty percent as fast as a point on the edge.

Trackman data from the PGA Tour shows that the average swing speed for the driver is 112 MPH. For the 9-iron, it’s 85 MPH, seventy-five percent of the speed of the driver. Data from the LPGA Tour yield roughly the same ratio (94 MPH and 72 MPH).

Now the arc traced by a golf swing is not a circle, and there is acceleration in the swing, so the math is a lot more complicated than for a spinning turntable. The numbers work out differently, but the principle is the same:

If you like the way you hit your 9-iron, hit your driver the same way, and you’ll get the clubhead speed you crave.

If you don’t believe the math, believe your eyes. Watch LPGA Tour players especially. They don’t pound their driver. They swing it with the same ease as with any other club, yet they hit the ball farther than you do. Maybe that’s the reason why.

This post is about relative distance, the distance you hit your driver compared to your 9-iron. If you want to increase both of those distances and everything between, your absolute distance, see Two Simple Ways to Get More Distance

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Recent Facebook Highlights

Either you’re lurking or you haven’t been checking my Facebook page every day. Here’s a bit of what you have missed if you’re in the second group:

Find the club you hit 175 yards and get real good with it. If you look at the scorecards of the courses you play, you’ll find that if you can nail that shot, par 4s are yours for the taking and par 5s become birdie holes.

There’s a neighbor cat who hangs out in my backyard when I hit plastic golf balls every morning. It thinks every one has to be pounced on. So I’ll hit one to this side of the yard then that side, to give it something to chase. I’ll also get out a wedge and see how close to the cat I can drop one. Great practice.

Winter is the best time of year to get a lesson. You know what needs patching up, so you can get corrected and have the time to practice it until you’ve got it. Also, NO ONE is taking lessons now, so the pro’s dance card is empty. You can sign up any time you want to. Go ahead, do it!

I’ve found that when I go to the range, if I know what I’m doing, about a dozen golf balls will do. If I don’t know what I’m doing, the whole bucket won’t help.

My teaching pro told me a story from his college days about a teammate who spent lots of time hitting one-foot putts. So the question finally got asked: “What are you doing over here?”
“I’m practicing making putts.”
“But they’re only this long!”
“Yes, but the putter doesn’t know that.”

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How to Build a Repeating Golf Swing

Usually I start off my posts with a leader and then get to the good stuff. Today I’m going straight to the good stuff.

You have to know what you’re doing to polish your swing. Get lessons to learn the fine points that make your swing work. Those are your building blocks. There might be five or six of them. They will have an order of priority that makes sense.

Now you’re at the range with a ball in front of you. Take practice swings, concentrating on getting the first point right. When it is, keep taking practice swings, but concentrate only on the second point. When you’re satisfied, move onto the third point.

All along, you are adding on, not substituting. That is, when you start working on the second point, you’re still doing the first one, too. When you work on the third, you’re still doing the first two, and so on.

After you have progressed through all of your practice points, then you can hit that ball. It might take you a dozen practice swings to finally get to the ball, but they will have been practice swings with a purpose, and the shot you hit should be a pretty good one.

Then go through the same process again. After you have worked your way through hitting ten balls, you might be pretty worn out, but your swing should be in pretty good shape.

This is how you build a repeating golf swing. You practice one thing until it’s right, then add on the next one, building up a swing from scratch every time, doing everything right. This eliminates the random differences between swings that you get when you hit one ball with one swing, over and over again.

This is the golfing equivalent of an instrumentalist practicing scales, over and over, getting them right. Being deliberate about the things you know are right is the right way to practice, and is the fastest way to learning them.

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Is Chip Kelly the Phil Mickelson of College Football?

Yes, this is a golf blog, but golf gives me the perfect metaphor to describe Chip Kelly, the highly successful, but maddening, coach of the Oregon Ducks football team. (Overseas readers, you might not be able follow the particulars, but you’ll do all right with the general principle.)

Kelly has taken Oregon to four straight B.C.S. bowl games, the National Title game once, and how can you get more successful than that? By not being the Phil Mickelson of college football, that’s how.

2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Phil, who hasn’t hit a fairway all day with his driver, has a one-shot lead on the final tee. Out comes the driver instead of the fairway wood and tragedy of errors, beginning with a tee shot deep into the trees, causes him to lose the tournament by one stroke.

2012 Masters. Third hole, final round. Phil hits his approach in to ugly stuff left of the green. Instead of taking an unplayable lie and trying for maybe a five and a certain six, he plays it as it lies and ends up with a seven, losing the tournament by two shots.

Over to Chip Kelly.

2010 National Title game. Oregon’s offense has been pretty well contained by Auburn’s defensive line, but the Ducks complete a long pass in the third quarter and have a first and goal inside the five. In three plays, they get down to the one yard-line. Instead of going for the field goal, Kelly tries to do what hasn’t worked three times already. It doesn’t work the fourth time. Oregon comes away with no points, and loses by three.

2012 at home against Stanford, the only team realistically standing between Oregon and another trip to the NTG. QB Marcus Mariota breaks off a long run to the Stanford 15 in the first quarter. Three plays later it’s fourth and two. Just like Phil, Kelly pulls out the driver, instead of going for a certain three points. Once again, the Ducks are stopped and Stanford takes over. The game ends in a tie and the Ducks lose in overtime. ‘Bye, ‘bye, NTG.

Both Mickelson and Kelly are gamblers, and they have the talent/team to make it pay off enough to warrant the attempt. But there are times when you just have to take what you’ve earned and say, “That’s good enough.” Fourth and short inside the 10 seems to be Kelly’s idea of hitting into a sucker pin. Sometimes it works, and when it does it’s what gets you knocking on the door of winning it all, but what’s the saying? Discretion is the better part of valor? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s one thing to be brave, but another to be foolish.

Will Kelly ever learn? I doubt it. But oh, well, we’re having a fun ride, and we’ll enjoy it wherever he takes us for as long as it lasts.

I watched Monday night’s Alabama-Notre Dame game, every play, even to the very end. There’s no more college football for another 235 days. It’s a good thing I have golf to keep my mind occupied in the meantime.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

The Golfer’s Goal: Accuracy or Distance?

They say that 230 in the fairway is better than 260 in the rough. Maybe, maybe not. Try it. Go out some day and play a round where you skip the tee shot. Drop one ball in the middle of the fairway at the length of your average drive (that’s average, not your best). Drop another ball in the rough, twenty yards beyond that.

Play both balls into the hole and see which returns the better score. There’s no reason to listen to conventional wisdom when it’s so easy to check on it yourself.

What this might show, is that if you’re a long, but inaccurate hitter, dialing back a bit might help you out.

It might also show that if you’re a short, but accurate hitter, more distance won’t help you that much.

But try it to see for yourself.

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How to Make a Video of Your Golf Swing

There are several reasons why you might want to make a video of your golf swing. One reason might be just to look at to teach yourself. Another might be to record what it looks like when you’re swinging well, so that when you get into a bad patch, you might be able to see what is wrong. Another might be to send it to a swing guru to have it analyzed.

Your video should show two views — face-on, looking across the ball at you, and down-the-line, which is taken from the backswing side of the golfer, looking toward the direction the ball is going to be hit.

For both views, the height of the camera should be at about the middle of the rib cage when the player is standing upright. Higher or lower than that distorts the image of the golfer.

The field of view should be wide enough to include the ball, and show the clubhead throughout the swing. The clubhead should never disappear out of the top or the sides of the frame.

When taking a face-on shot, the camera should be pointed directly at the middle of the player’s body. For the down-the-line angle, the camera should be directly behind the hands at address. Laying alignment sticks on the ground to mark the location and direction of these points of view will be very helpful.

It will also be helpful to lay down an alignment stick next to the ball so the golfer can align his or her normal stance in relation to the stick pointing at the face-on camera.

This part is important: the camera must be on a tripod. A hand-held camera will move around and you will not be able to compare different stages of the swing. When the image is dancing around, you can’t tell if changes in the angles created in the video are caused by the golfer’s swing or by camera movement.

If you have a variable shutter, set it on 1/2000 sec. Clearly, you should take your video on a bright, sunny day.

To get the full benefit of making a swing video, set up two cameras, one in the face-on position and the other in the down-the-line position, and run both cameras at once. This way you get two views of the same swing. What you’re trying to do is show what your swing looks like from two views, and that can only be done with certainty if you’re filming one swing from two locations at the same time.

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