A New Way of Practicing

Does this happen to you? You go to the range and get loose. You hit a few balls and they’re perfect. Or you go to the practice green and the first few chips you hit end up right next to the hole, or the first few putts go right in.

And after that, you can’t do a thing right. You hit ball after ball, trying to get back the magic you had at the start, and you never quite get there. Well, maybe you shouldn’t try.

James Sieckmann has a new book out, titled, Your Short Game Solution. In addition to invaluable short game advice, Sieckmann spends a little time talking about the difference between block practice, which you do a lot of, and random practice, which you probably don’t do at all.

Block practice is hitting the same shot over and over again. Random practice is where you have a shot for the first time, and you hit it. Then you pick a different shot and hit that one.

Sieckmann suggest that you spend a only few minutes in block practice, then the rest of the time in random practice – hitting different shots to different targets with different clubs. The reason is that you train your brain much better that way.

He refers to an article in the blog, The Bulletproof Musician, that says our brain is wired to respond to change. It gets dulled by repetition.

What about practicing to perfection? Again, that’s not how our brain works. It was designed to improvise, not do the same thing over and over again, according to the work of Stanford engineer Dr. Krishna Shrenoy.

Sure, you do have to practice a golf technique (the RIGHT technique) enough to have learned how to do it. That means a lot of repetitions. But you don’t pile up those repetitions. You do them over time, along with other techniques you’re learning.

Along the way you spend lots of time giving yourself problems to solve with each technique, even as you’re learning it.

So here’s what I would recommend. It’s how a practice session goes for me.

I get a small bucket of balls, 33. I’ll warm up with dry swings (no ball), then hit a few 9-irons, a few 7-irons, a few 5-irons, a few hybrids, and a few drivers. Back to the 7 or 5 and hit few fades and a few draws. I’ve hit about half the bucket.

This part is just to remind me how my swing works, to keep the feelings fresh.

Then I take out my wedges and hit to random distances. I’ll play with trajectory next. When maybe three or four balls are left, I’ll go back to the long clubs and hit a driver and a few irons. Done.

At the practice green, I’ll drop four balls and chip them to different holes. Or, I’ll pick one hole and chip to it from four balls different places around the green. This goes on, hitting different shots all the time, until I’ve gotten all four balls up and down twice in a row.

Finally, putting. Eight three-footers in a circle drill to a cup that is on slanted ground. Then a dozen or so 20-footers to different holes and from different directions — never hitting the same putt twice. Four balls to the same hole on the same line from 35, 15, 45, and 25 feet (in that order) until all of them go down in two. End with five straight-in two-foot putts, to go home with success in mind.

My Adventures With The Golfing Machine

This is a post I was going to have to write sooner or later. I thought I would wait until I had some idea of what The Golfing Machine says instead of none. The “none” meant trying three ties to read it and getting nowhere.

But with help from a few online blogs, and a careful re-reading, I can finally talk to you about the book without being completely ignorant. Just unignorant enough.

A comprehensive overview would take the length of three blog posts, so I’ll just allude to a few highlights, and hope you’ll hunt up a copy and see what you make of it.

The Golfing Machine (TGM), by Homer Kelley, is not really an instruction book. It’s a compendium of swing features and components, broken down in a way that allows a golfer to build a swing from the very start, based on the particular physical characteristics and movement preferences of that individual.

It does not teach one swing. Someone calculated that if all the possible combinations of catalogued features were considered, TGM offers 446 quadrillion possible swings. One of them is right for you.

Actually, that’s not where the book goes. All the book is meant to do is take the way you swing, eliminate the parts of your swing that work against you, and substitute a different part at that same point that is compatible with what you do in the rest of your swing.

Instead of learning a new swing, you take the swing you have and make a few changes here and there so the whole thing works together. Who could argue with that?

It sounds so good that you want to pitch right in, but the problem is first you have to know what those parts are that need altering, and then you have to know which alteration to make with anywhere from three to fifteen variations per part, and after you have figured all that out, it really gets complicated.

You might need professional help with that, and there are certified TGM instructors if you want to go that route. But you can do it yourself if you consider matters carefully.

My swing is now emphasizing a matter I have brought up in the blog, the hands leading the clubhead, too much. My right arm and hand are now almost completely out of the swing. TGM is helping me put the right side back in without disturbing what I have accomplished with the left. That’s what this book can do for you.

Jim McLean wrote a article on TGM, praising it in general, but saying this about it. It is good for beginners and intermediate golfers, but Tour pros who latched onto it regressed. That would mean TGM is ideal for recreational golfers, but the problem with that is the book is so hard to read that you need to have a fair grounding in swing theory already to understand it and pick out the parts that might apply to your swing.

TGM is something of a cult book. If it was the be all and end all, every teacher would be using it and every pro would be teaching out of it. Clearly, that’s not the case.

You might want to hunt down a copy, though, to find out what all the fuss is about. You might find some bits of wisdom that help you tremendously. The rest of it you can forget about, and that’s all right, because that would be just what the author intended.

What Your Grip Should Feel Like

In last week’s post, I wrote, “It is one thing for your grip to be identical for every shot. That takes lot of practice, and is a good subject for another post.”

I use the phrase, “a good subject for another post” without following through more often than I should, but this week I’m following through.

My topic is what your hands are supposed to feel like as you take your grip — again, something you read very little about in discussions of the grip.

Most of what is written describes what the grip is supposed to look like. What it feels like is just as important in having your grip be identical every time you pick up a club. Your grip can look right, but still be off. It has to feel right, too.

Let’s begin without a club in our hand. We’ll take an air grip, so the feel of the club in our hands does not distract us from the main points of how the hands should feel when they come together.

The key feeling of the hands working as one lies where the side of the left thumb rests in the pocket of the right palm. It is not enough for the left thumb just to be placed there.

There needs to be a feeling that the thumb is locked into that place, and there is only one placement that will give you that feeling. A shift of even a quarter-inch either way, by sliding the thumb in the pocket, is enough to destroy that connection.

I have written that there needs to be a slight bit of pressure in this spot so the hands stay together, but that is not what I’m talking about now.

I mean a feeling that the left thumb and right palm touch each other, fitting so neatly together, that you feel as if someone who tried to pull your hands apart couldn’t do it.

The second feel is of the right little finger interacting with the back of the left forefinger and middle finger.

There are lots of places this little finger can go. Wherever that is for you, it needs to have the same feeling as the left thumb does — it’s comfortably in place, but fitting in with the other hand, in this case, the left, in an inseparable way.

Those two fingers, the left thumb and the right little finger, are what lock the hands together — not because they are fixed in place by pressure, but because they are in the right place.

Now we can pick up a club and work with the fingers that actually hold it. They are the last three fingers of the left hand and the first three fingers of the right hand.

The feeling in the last three fingers of the left hand is that they, and no others, are holding the club. That doesn’t mean to squeeze those fingers, just hold on with them.

The feeling in the first three fingers of the right hand is of stability. They support the action of the last three fingers of the left hand, but do not take over their function.

The segment of the right forefinger closest to the palm presses gently against the handle of the club. That pressing action keeps the right hand rotated inward a bit, in support of the left thumb resting against the right palm, to keep the hands from coming apart.

In all, none of these feelings should be pronounced. There should be firmness, but light firmness and not heavy or tense firmness.

Finally, regarding grip pressure, you know how Sam Snead said you should hold the club as if it were a little bird? Sam Snead had large hands and very strong hands. You might not be able to get away with holding a club that lightly.

If you feel the handle pressing against, but not compressing, the soft pads of your palm and the underside of your fingers, that is about right.

The Way You Take Your Grip

The tagline for my advice on how to help you play better golf is, “Little Things That Make A Big Difference.” Today’s post is about a thing so tiny you can hardly see it, and which I have never read or heard about before.

It’s about the way in which you place your hands on the handle, no matter what kind of grip you have or what it looks like.

Go get a golf club and I’ll show you exactly what I mean. A 5-iron will do nicely. I’ll wait.

[wait]    [wait]    [wait]

Got one? Good. Now. Hold the club out in front of you, in your right hand, so the shaft is inclined a bit above parallel to the ground. Turn the club until the bottom line of the clubhead is exactly vertical.

While watching the bottom line, don’t take your eyes off it, put your left hand on the handle in its grip position. The bottom line of the clubhead must not get disturbed as you’re doing this. If it got turned slightly to the right or left, the clubface is now out of alignment and, guess what, the ball won’t go where you want it to go.

We’re not finished. Assuming you passed the left hand test, now add your right hand to complete your grip. Do not take your eyes off the bottom line as you do this. If the bottom line turned, even just a bit, you blew it. You haven’t even put the club on the ground and taken your stance, and the shot has been ruined.

Cary Middlecoff said in his book, The Golf Swing,

“… it is quite easy to vary the grip slightly without being aware of it, and just a slight variance can make a vast difference in how the shot comes off.”

And again,

“So many golfers do not relate their bad shots to a basically bad grip, or to slight but relevant changes in their grip from one shot to the next.”

It is one thing for your grip to be identical for every shot. That takes lot of practice, and is a good subject for another post.

But the way you place your grip on the handle is part of it. Doing that haphazardly can make a grip that is perfect in every way ineffective because you did not relate the grip to the clubface when you placed your hands on the handle.

The clubface acts as a surrogate for your hands. They must be coordinated from the very start. Practice this deliberately, and when you play, be that much deliberate when you take your grip. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.

What’s in My Bag – Spring 2016

Play with your equipment. Mix it up. The clubs you put in your bag dictate how you play the game. This is how I’m playing this spring.

Driver – Titleist 975D
Hybrid – Ben Hogan Edge CFT 17*
Irons – Ben Hogan Apex RedLine 4-E
Iron – Ben Hogan Apex Producer 9 (left-handed)
Wedges – Titleist Vokey 52, 56, 60
Putter – John Reuter Bulls Eye

No fairway woods, one hybrid, and a left-handed club. Really, I only need the thirteen clubs to get round the course in fine shape.

The left-handed 9-iron is the ultimate trouble club. Next to a tree or other object with no right-handed swing available? Ball beside a deep bunker you would have to take your stance in to swing right-handed?

A little chipping stroke will do, and it’s not that hard to learn how to swing from the other side. Let’s see how many strokes it saves me this year.