A Solid Core for Golfers

Golf is not a walk in the park, though it looks like one. The golf swing is an athletic movement, which requires physical strength to perform correctly, and to avoid injury.

The physical foundation of the swing is your core, or the trunk and the lower back. Do these exercises three times a week to develop it. No equipment is required.

Exercises 1-3 strengthen your abdomen. Exercises 4-5 strengthen your back. You must do both groups to be balanced.

1. Abdominal crunch – Lie down on your back, both knees bent. Elevate your upper back so your shoulder blades are off the ground. Hold for five seconds and lower your shoulders to the ground. Start with three times and work up to ten.

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2. Plank – Get into a push-up position, with your body supported by your toes, and your forearms instead of your hands. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for 30 seconds and work up to two minutes.

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3. Side plank – Lie on your side. Raise your body off the ground and support it on your forearm and underside foot. Make sure your body line is straight. Hold for ten seconds. Do five times on each side. At first, you may wish only to raise your upper body off the ground.

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4. Butt squeeze – Lie down on your back, legs straight out. Clench your buttocks and hold for ten seconds. Try not to squeeze your thighs, too. Do five times.

5. Prone pointer – Get down on all fours. Raise your right leg and stick it straight out behind you. Raise your left arm and stick it straight out in front of you. Hold for ten seconds. Lower and switch to left leg, right arm. Do five times on each side, work up to twenty.

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My Swing Keys for 2014

Lately I have been hitting the ball very straight. This is because I have been paying attention to a few simple swing keys. They might be worth anything only to me, but just in case they’re not, here they are:

1. 3:1 rhythm. Three counts to the end of the backswing, one count back to impact. Often, just doing this is enough to produce a good shot.

2. Start the club back straight away from the ball. My pet swing flaw is to take it back inside.

3. Take the club back to control. This means to take the club back only so far as I still feel a connection between the clubhead and the ball. The clubhead knows where the ball is and how to get back to it. If I make my backswing to long, I lose this connection.

4. The left hand leads the club into impact. You might think this would leave the clubface open. It does only if your body is too far ahead of your arms. 

When I get these four things right, I hit the ball right where I’m looking. 

Here’s to low scores in 2014.

[April 2018 note: These four points evolved into Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing.]

Jack Fleck (1921-2014)

The man who defeated Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open died today at the age of 92 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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Fleck was an outstanding ball striker, but an indifferent putter. He came to the Olympic Club confident and knowledgable, having played many rounds there. He was one stroke off the lead going into the Saturday 36-hole final.

With several holes to go for Fleck, Hogan was in the clubhouse with a two-stroke lead. On the 72nd hole, Fleck need a birdie 3 to tie Hogan. He got it, to get into a playoff the next day.

Fleck had a one-stroke lead on the final hole when Hogan slipped hitting his drive, and ended up with a double bogey 6, securing the victory for Fleck.

Fleck, who began and ended his career as a teaching pro, did not receive the adulation a National Open championship normally received, one, because he beat Hogan, and two, he was an unknown.

He got a set of Ben Hogan irons just before the Open, with the blessing of Hogan himself.

Fleck won only two more tournaments on the PGA Tour.

His autobiography, The Jack Fleck Story, describes the payoff shot by shot.

Leave Approach Putts Next to the Hole

The main reason you have three-putt greens is that you leave your first putt too far from the hole. That has to do with touch; some days you have it, and some days you haven’t a clue.

There is a way to always have it, though. When you move the putter back, your body changes shape. Some muscles contract, other muscles flex, and if you are aware enough, you can feel all this. The trick is to identify the physical sensations that are related to a certain size of backswing, which is the regulator of distance in putting.

I will describe my own sensations as an example. Yours might be different.

I keep my upper arms close to my body, but not touching it, at address. When I take the putter back and feel my right upper arm start to press against my right side, that is the length of backswing for a putt of about 15 feet.

When I take the club back farther than that, and feel a stretching on the right side of my torso, near the hip, that is a backswing for about a 30-foot putt. If I continue to take the putter back beyond that sensation, I will eventually feel the same kind of stretching in my torso on the left side. That is the backswing or a 40-foot putt.

There’s one I left out, because it’s subtle. When I take the putter back past the pressing of my upper right arm, but before I feel the stretch on my right side, there is a point of what feels like ease, like a natural place to stop swinging the club. That backswing hits the ball just over 20 feet.

With these longer putts so calibrated, I never have to guess how hard to hit a putt. I just read my own body.

I developed these indicators on the practice green at my driving range. Most golf courses I play on have greens faster than that one. All I need to do is re-calibrate each sensation on the practice green at the course, before I tee off, and I’m ready.

Relying on your mind to “feel” the length of the stroke leads to inconsistency from round to round. This method gives you something that is tangible and repeatable to gauge its length. The more of that you can put in your golf, the better.

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Practice Golf as You Play It

When you go to the range, you need to work on two things–your technical skills, and your mental skills. The third phase of golf, playing skills, can’t be practiced. You learn that “on the job.”

You can, however, practice the first two at the same time if you do this one thing: never hit the same shot with the same club more than two times in a row.

After you hit your 7-iron twice (and you are hitting it to a target, aren’t you?), put that club down and take out another that is somewhat different, such as a long iron or a sand wedge. Hit two shots with that club and switch again.

If you’re practicing around the green, hit a chip twice, then pick a different target that makes you use a different club.

With the putter, again, don’t hit the same putt more than twice in a row. Hit a few three-footers, then go to a few 20-footers, for example.

Mixing  it up like this accomplishes two things. First, it keeps you from getting into a groove. After a while, you might be hitting one good shot after another, but that doesn’t help you learn that shot.

When you play, you have to set up your mind for making a shot because you only have that one chance to get it right. Banging out one ball after the other, even if they’re all good shots, skips that critical mental process.

Second, you can go the other direction. You have to set up your mind for each shot when you play, but you can’t overdo it. After three or four good shots at the range you might start thinking about it, and start tweaking what needs to be left alone.

Good performance in sports is based on trusting your training. Learning how to trust is just as important as perfecting your physical skills.

So you don’t have to hit only two 7-irons, or any other club,  and call it a day with that club. Just hit your two shots with it, and work with a few other clubs before you go back to it.

They say to practice as you play, and this is one way to do that.

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Short Irons and Bad Backs

I was playing golf today, and I noticed that while my drives are going about 220 yards, and my 4-iron went 170 yards, I had a full shot into the green from 118 yards and I hit a full 8-iron.  That’s not very far for that club, given what I’m doing with the other two.

It struck me, though, that the reason is that I have to take care of my back when I swing. When I hit the longer clubs, I can stand more upright, which puts less stress on my spine.

But with a short iron, I have to bend way over (I’m 6’6″ tall). That puts a lot of stress on my spine, so I’m unconsciously reluctant to swing too hard.

If you have a bad back, and I know there are a lot of you out there who do, too, take this into consideration.

The more you bend over, the more of a load you place on your lumbar spine. Therefore, the more easily you need to swing a golf club in that posture.

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Building an Ideal Golf Swing – Rhythm

I cannot say often enough how much the proper rhythm irons out your golf swing. Three counts up, one count down, that’s it, for every shot–even putting.

But in the golf swing, this rhythm keeps you from rushing your backswing, so you can get into the proper slot for the downswing. It also keeps you from rushing your downswing.

This rhythm times your swing–so things happen in the right order and at the right moment.

Nothing else you do will help you get a better swing than by making this your go-to fundamental. Work in it every time you go to the range. Work on it at home.

Every good golfer has this rhythm locked into their shot-making. No bad player does. Which one do you want to be?

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Dr. Frank Jobe (1925-2014)

You know who this guy is. He is the one who invented Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow of baseball pitchers. John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had a useless left elbow until Jobe took an unneeded ligament from John’s right wrist and grafted it in place in John’s left elbow. After healing as complete, John went to win 146 more major league baseball games.

The real name of the procedure is “ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction while using the palmaris longus tendon.” Let’s just stick with Tommy John surgery.

But this is a golf blog, so where’s the connection? Jobe did pioneering work in the role of different body parts in the golf swing. You can look them up at PubMed, a clearing house for medical journals.

He also wrote a book of exercises for golfers, titled, 30 Exercises for Better Golf. Golf is an athletic event. You need to have the right muscles developed to play it well, and to play it injury-free. This book tells you how to do that.

Golf is hard on the back. It’s hard on the elbows and shoulders, too. As we age, we loose flexibility, especially in trunk rotation, which causes us to lose power, which causes us to try to make up for it harmful ways. Keep the golf muscles strong and flexible, and the effects of aging are diminished.

All these are good reasons to be prepare for golf by being in shape for it.

I have read all the golf exercise books I can find, but this one is by far the best. Get it, use it. And thank Dr. Jobe for helping us stay healthy.

 

The Importance of the Golf Swing

Sometimes I make a shot-by-shot record of a round I just played. I dug into those sheets and found four complete rounds and a nine-holer from about ten years ago that averaged 90 (93, 87, 88, 91, 46). These are the average numbers of long shots, short shots and putts in those rounds (there were also four penalty strokes).

Long – 34.7; Short – 21.8; Putts – 32.7

Then I found notes on 45 holes where I averaged 79 (80, 76, 41), from seven years later.

Long – 36.0; Short – 12.0; Putts – 30.8

This is a small sample, and you could put +/- a stroke or two behind each one.

The biggest change by far is the number of short shots, dropping by almost ten strokes. The reason why is the improvement in my swing, which led to more greens hit, and, therefore, no short shots on those holes. I hit about the same number of long shots, but they were better shots.

There was a secondary contribution due to short game improvement in that I would not take more than one short shot to get the ball on the green so often. But most of that ten-shot difference is swing improvement.

Heck, a few weeks a go, I played nine holes and on the last four, hit every fairway and every green and got four pars. Who needs a short game when you hit it that straight? (And yes, I know you don’t always hit it that straight. Just sayin’.)

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Building a Recreational Golf Swing – At Impact

Everything you have done so far in the swing is designed to lead to an ideal position of the clubhead at impact — square, centered on the ball, headed toward the target, still descending.

Here’s where you want to be at impact:

Your left wrist is flat.

Your weight is on your left side and moving leftward still.

Your left arm is straight.

Your hips are turning.

Your right elbow is by your right side.

Your right knee is above the ball.

Like this:

It’s not hard to get there. The best way is to hit chips with a lofted club, with your left hand only. Except for your right elbow, you will be doing all these things in order just to hit the ball decently.

Short and sweet, it’s that simple.

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