The Simple Golf Swing

To become a good golfer, you have to have a good swing. There is no way around that truth. You putting and short game are all built out of your swing.

There might be golfers with a good swing and a mediocre short game, but that means they haven’t practiced the short shots enough. There are few players with a bad swing and a good short game.

Getting your swing down is the key to the rest of golf.

Recreational golfers need to keep it simple. All our swing needs to do is hit the ball a reasonable distance and keep it in play. From that simple skill unfolds an enjoyable game.

I will describe a recreational golf swing, but in order to truly learn it, you need to have a series of lessons from a professional who can take you from where you are to where you are capable of going.

Before you start your swing, your grip, stance, posture, ball position, and alignment must be correct. If these are off, nothing that comes next has meaning. Since it takes no athletic skill to get these right, there is no reason that you should not do so.

The backswing is designed to get the clubhead in position to hit the ball accurately and powerfully without making compensations. It should be no more complicated than turning away from the ball and lifting the hands to about shoulder height. The left forearm rotates naturally so that the angle in the left wrist stays the same as it was at address.

The downswing starts with turning the entire left side. The right side is along for the ride for now. The angle between the left forearm and clubshaft does not change. As the arms lower, think that you are dragging the shaft across in front of you, directly at the target, but keep turning as you do this.

When the hands fall below the hips and into the hitting area, keep turning. The momentum of the swing begins to open up that angle and whips the clubhead through the ball on its own. The hands do not need to help out.

The moment after the ball is struck the right forearm will start rotating, like the left forearm did on the backswing. Continue turning to where your follow-through takes you.

Simple to describe, difficult to do without an educated eye to correct you along the way, but that’s how it’s done.

Good golf is not difficult if you keep it simple.

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The PGA Tour on Anchored Putting

Yesterday, PGA Tour director Tim Finchem said that the Tour is not in favor of the anchored putting ban. While not going so far as to say that the Tour would not adopt the ban, a reasonable stance since the rule is still a proposal, Finchem did reassert the Tour’s right to establish its own playing conditions.

He said the best way to avoid conflict over the matter would be for the USGA to rescind the proposal.

Finchem noted that there is no evidence that players who use the anchored stroke have an advantage on the greens, as not one of them is in the top quartile in putting statistics. (While it might help individuals putt better, anchored putters are not a high-performing group.)

He also noted that since this technique has been part of golf since 1975, the USGA has given it tacit approval for almost forty years. A ban would have been more acceptable if it had been put in place much earlier than now.

Finally, the only reason the USGA seems to have is that anchoring is not a traditional stroke–it looks odd. That’s no reason to prevent players, professional and amateur, who have built their golfing success on anchoring, from putting that way.

The USGA’s comment period ends this Thursday, February 28th. Its final ruling will be made this spring.

So far, the USGA has handled this issue like it did the greens at Shinnecock Hills in the 2004 U.S. Open. We can only hope the directors see that this is not the issue on which they want to stake their authority.

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Stance and Posture in Golf

These two pre-swing fundamentals are sometime confused and taken to mean the same thing. They refer to different things, and must be done correctly to put your body in the best position to put your best swing on the ball.

Stance is where your feet are both in relation to the ball and your target line. Posture is the shape of your body as you address the ball. The following description is for a full swing.

To get into your stance, take your grip with your right hand. Put the clubface behind the ball, aimed at the target. Step into your stance so your feet are parallel to your target line, and put your left hand on the grip.

Your feet should be about 18 inches apart, but this depends on the club you’re using. With a driver, your feet will be a few inches farther apart, with a 9-iron, a few inches less.

The ball should be in the center of your stance for any shot hit off the ground or irons off a tee. Put the ball two ball-widths forward of that to hit your driver or fairway metal off a tee.

Stand up straight. Now push your hip straight back, keeping your head where it is. This will cause you to bend over at the hip, while not rounding your back or drooping your head. Even though you’re bent, you should still have the feeling of standing tall.

Let your knees bend slightly, too. Your weight should be evenly distributed from the front to back of the soles of your feet.

Look at your elbow as your arm hang downs at your side. Notice there is a slight natural bend in it. This is the full extension of your arm. If you straighten your arm, it’s now over-extended and tense. If there’s more bend than normal in your elbow, your arms are under-extended. Your swing movements will be constricted and weak. Hold the club with this natural bend in the elbows.

With shorter clubs, the arms should hang straight down, relaxed, and at their full natural extension. With longer clubs you will stand straighter, so your arms cannot hang straight down, but there should be no feeling of reaching out for the ball.

The shoulders should slant downward a bit from left to right, and the line across them should be parallel to the line across the hips. Do not let the right shoulder come forward so the shoulder line points to the left of the hip line. This is an easy error to make, and one that will make the direction you hit your shots inconsistent and unpredictable.

Your head will fall slightly from its upright position when you bend over, but do not let that make you hunch your shoulders.

Practice your stance and posture at home by leaving a club in a place you pass by frequently, and whenever you pass by, stop, grab the club, and set up. It only takes a few seconds, so there’s no reason why you can’t do it quite a few times a day. Every time you set up, not just going through the motions, but paying attention to every detail, you’re that much closer to having a good setup become a habit.

You might think if the stance you have now is comfortable, it’s right. Comfortable only means habitual. Practice the right stance until it becomes comfortable.

Check yourself in front of a mirror. A stand-up mirror costs about as much as a round of golf and is an excellent investment in your game.

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The Importance of Technical Golf

Ansel Adams (click the link to get a Google search, then click the Images link on that page) was a legendary American photographer of the mid-20th century. His breathtaking landscape photographs set standards that few have met and none exceeded. He was a virtuoso artist whose medium was the photograph. Behind the beauty of every photograph he released, though, was a master of the photographic craft.

Most of the dramatic prints he made were photographs of fairly mundane scenes. But Adams knew, before he pressed the shutter, that if he gave this much exposure to the scene on this kind of film, and developed the film with this kind of developer, and printed it on this kind of paper using this kind of print developer, and by manipulating the heck out of the negative while he made the print, he would produce a masterwork.

Because he had mastered the technical side of photography, he could concentrate on the art of photography: choosing just the right the subject and framing the shot just right.

Golf is the same way. If you have done your homework on the range, you will know in any given situation which club to use, and which setup and swing variables to select in order to hit just the right shot for the situation you’re in.

For example, consider the short pitches from 25 to 60 yards. The main course variables are the distance from your ball to the edge of the green, and from the edge to the pin.

If you have truly learned how to hit these shots, then for any combination of these two distances, you will know without thinking which club to use, and which setup and swing variables to tack on. Then you can concentrate on the feel of the situation and have the clear mind necessary to pull off all that technique.

When you’re trying to figure out the technique for the shot at the same time you’re trying to keep your mind focused, you won’t be able to accomplish either one.

A few years ago I saw Retief Goosen on TV hitting from about seventy yards to the right of the green, in front of the one on the neighboring fairway. He had little green to work with, and the shot was blind because he had to hit over a cluster of trees. He flew the trees and stopped the ball inside six feet from the pin.

Don’t tell me that was lucky. He knew from his practice exactly how to hit that shot.

The more technical shot-making skills you can develop on the practice ground, the easier this game gets and the better you will play.

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My Comment to the USGA on Anchored Putting

The USGA is inviting comments on its proposed Rule 14-1b, which would ban the anchored putting stroke. The comment period ends on February 28th. My comment, which I sent off yesterday, is printed below.

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February 12, 2013

United States Golf Association
PO Box 708, 77 Liberty Corner Rd.
Far Hills, NJ 07931-0708

This note is my comment on proposed rule 14-1b which bans the anchored putting stroke. I am opposed to the ban.

Golf is a game played primarily by millions of recreational players worldwide. They come in all ages, and all physical capabilities and conditions. The combination of the long putter and the anchored putting stroke has enabled many people to play the game enjoyably who would otherwise play in discomfort or not at all. This combination has also made a difficult game a bit easier to play; not a cakewalk, by any means, but a more approachable game in which beginners can achieve a satisfying level of success in a relatively short time.

It is recreational golfers that the rules of golf must accommodate. They are the game, not the handful of gifted players who compete at the highest levels. For those millions, the anchored stroke is not a corruption of the game’s principles or its intent. It is a way for them to have as much fun as they can.

We’re not asking for a different set of rules, but the preservation of the current ones. There is no point in changing the rules to make the game harder. Whether anchored putting contributes to golf’s growth is debatable, that banning the anchored stroke might well diminish it is not. I can easily foresee golfers with a marginal commitment to the game or physical handicaps quitting over this.

It seems the main argument brought up by the R&A and the USGA that the anchored stroke is a violation of the traditions of the game, that “a player should hold the club away from his body and swing it freely.” (Golfweek, December 7-14, 2012). That’s a tradition of the game because it’s a law of physics. If you want to hit a ball sitting on the ground a long way, you have to rear back and whack it. I suppose if someone wanted to have a belly driver with a 60” shaft (yes, I know the rule on shaft lengths) and swing it with an anchored stroke, they might be able to hit the ball 100 yards. We swing freely because that’s the only way to hit the ball and get anything resembling distance.

Putting, however, is not a distance stroke. It’s a finesse stroke. There is no need for it to be a free-swinging stroke. The anchored stroke is not part of golf’s tradition only because no one thought of it until recent times. But then, metal and graphite shafts aren’t traditional, either, as are not metal-headed drivers and moderns golf balls. The sand wedge and the Schenectady putter were nontraditional when they were introduced, but golf survived quite well following their acceptance. Anyone been stymied lately? It appears that golf’s rule-makers are being selective today as to which traditions they feel are necessary so the game can “sustain itself” and which are not.

There is an “unfair advantage” argument that you hear. If you think anchoring gives other golfers have an advantage, than you can start anchoring, too. PGA members who anchor have not taken over the top rankings in putting statistics, nor are they even close. No advantage that I can see there. If one of my playing pals switches to an anchored stroke and lowers his handicap by four strokes, I’ll be nothing but happy for him, because he’s having . . . more fun.

There is also the “nerves” argument, that the anchored stroke takes the nerves out of the game. Well, it doesn’t, and even if it settles them down a bit, recreational golfers don’t play golf to test our nerves. We’re not in competition. We’re out there to have fun.

So. To summarize. Golf belongs to the millions of recreational players, not the handful of professionals. We play golf to have fun. Anchored putting lets many of us not only have fun, but play the game, period. Let us keep this part of golf that does no harm to anyone or to the sport, but does many of us a world of good. Anchored putting so far hasn’t been the killing blow to recreational golf and it won’t be if it is allowed to continue. Rule 14-1b is a solution to an imaginary problem. Let’s keep the rules just like they are now.

Thank you for your attention.

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How My Golf Swing Works

I swing the club back to where my hands reach shoulder height. No more. That’s all the farther I can take it back and still feel like there is a psycho-physical connection between the clubhead and the ball, as there was at address.

When I swing through the ball, I feel like I’m dragging the club through, straight at the target. This is my key to keeping my hands ahead of the clubhead. If I “drag” the club through but hit to the right, I didn’t turn my body enough.

I have translated the 3:1 swing rhythm to a timed o-o-o-o-one, two! mantra. The backswing is not rushed, and the transition into the downswing is not rushed.

When I do these three things right, I hit a darn good shot.

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Tempo + Rhythm = Timing

In the old days when cars had carburetors, getting the ignition timing just right was critical to the engine’s performance. If the spark came to soon, the explosion collided with an upward-moving piston, making the engine work against itself. If the spark came too late, the explosion pushed on a piston well on its way down, applying power where there was no work to do. 

A golf swing is designed to put the clubhead in the right orientation at the moment it meets the ball. Given the mechanics to accomplish that, consistent tempo and rhythm ensure that happens at the right time, swing after swing.

Let’s be sure we understand the difference between the two words. Both terms originated to describe music.

Tempo is the overall speed of a musical piece. Rhythm is the varying duration of the tones being played. You can play “Stars and Stripes Forever” at two different tempos, but they will have the same rhythm.

In the same way, two golfers might move through their swing at different speeds, but the rhythm of the swing should be the same.

In December, I posted this comment on tempo, which explains the importance of swing tempo, and why it is slower than you might feel is right.

I also posted this comment on rhythm, which gives you an explicit method of finding the right tempo for your swing and what the right rhythm feels like.

Learn to groove the right rhythm first, using the procedure described in the aforementioned post. Then go to the range, with your metronome, and hit balls with that rhythm but at different tempos until you find the right one. It’s the swing that lets you hit your best shots and stay in balance throughout the swing.

Believe me, when you find it, you’ll know.

Spend a few weeks drilling this critical fundamental into your swing, and refresh yourself once a week or so during the golf season. You’ll love the difference it makes.

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I’m Back

My involvement with this blog has fallen off lately. The reason is that I spent the first five weeks of the year finishing writing my next book, The Golfing Self. That wasn’t much creativity left over for this space.

But last Friday morning, I put a tweak on the one sentence that still wasn’t right, and I’m finished. I made contact with the layout artist and we will get that part of production going later this week. The book is due out in April.

So! Starting tomorrow, you’ll be getting the usual supply of insightful instructional posts that is the backbone of The Recreational Golfer. In addition, this year I want to post short comments when ever it strikes me to, so the blog will be much more active than before.

For long-time readers, who are aware of my medical issues, I want you to know I played nine from the red tees last Friday, and the Friday before that. Everything went well. I hope to playing eighteen from the whites by mid-summer.

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Power Leaks in the Golf Swing

Every golfer has a maximum clubhead speed. You get it by eliminating power leaks. Here are a few things you can change that are robbing you of precious MPH at impact.

You swing too hard. Swinging hard actually slows you down. Muscular force doesn’t generate speed. A relaxed swing lets power accumulate and multiply on its own.

You grip too tight. This puts tension in your hands which radiates throughout your body. You end up holding back the club instead of letting it go.

You swing too fast. Remember, you want clubhead speed, not “youspeed.” You don’t have to turn your body at 90 MPH to make the clubhead go that fast.

Your grip gets loose. Especially a the top, you sense this subliminally and use up effort hanging on to the club. Grip down at least an inch so the club feels balanced. Then it will never feel like it is trying to pull itself out of your hands.

You aim your swing. To get the most speed you can deliver to the ball, you have to be a bit out of control. Not in your body, but in your mind. If you care too much about where the ball will go, you slow down, but by too much.

You stop at the top. You get a good bump in speed if you can learn to start your downswing with the lower body a split second before your hands get to the top. Let your arms catch up on their own on the way down.

You start your downswing with your hands. Start your downswing by turning your lower body. Let your arms just drop down and follow. It’s a gravity move with the arms, powered by turning your lower body.

Each one of these things can be changed in a few minutes. The major patch is to hit the ball on the center of the clubface while it is square to the swing path. If you want to get this one down, take lessons.

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

What Happens at Impact

Because of a flexible shaft and a heavy clubhead, both flung at a stationary ball at high speed, impact in golf does not lend itself to a simple description.

From the top of the backswing to impact about 1/5 of a second elapses. The accelerating, clubhead builds up a considerable amount of speed. It meets the ball with a force of almost 2,000 pounds and remains in contact with it for 0.0005 seconds. During that time, the clubhead travels from 3/4” to 1”.

The force of impact with a stationary object, the golf ball, immediately slows the clubhead down by about 25 percent.

Spin gets applied to the ball, about 3-4,000 RPM with a driver, and about four times that with a 9-iron.

The heavier clubhead was in front of the shaft near impact, giving the shaft a concave shape in relation to the target. The collision of the clubhead and the ball slows the clubhead down more than the shaft, so the shaft flips into a convex shape in relation to the target.

Centrifugal force built up at impact pulls on the player’s hands with a force of about 40 to 60 pounds.

The golfer feels the shock of impact, but not simultaneously with the event itself. The vibration takes 0.00067 seconds to travel up the shaft to the player’s hands. By this time the ball has already left the clubface. From there the nerve impulse takes 0.01 seconds to travel to the player’s brain, by which time the ball has separated from the clubhead by almost 12 inches. Were the player to react in some way to the feel of impact, by the time a correction could be applied, the ball would be almost fifteen yards down range.

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