Two Turns and a Swish

Several weeks ago I described the golf swing in two pieces.  I said if I could describe the swing in one piece I’d let you know.  Well, here it is.

The title of this post is it: two turns and a swish, credited to legendary teacher John Jacobs.

But what does that phrase mean?  That part isn’t so easy.  From Jacobs we go to Jim Flick and his book with the most to-the-point title ever, On Golf.

In this book, Flick makes the clear statement that the golf swing is composed of turning motions and swinging motions.  They are different, and are performed by different parts of the body.  Some parts turn, other parts swing.

The turning elements are the shoulders, torso, hips, legs, knees, and feet.

The swinging elements are the club, the mind, the fingers and hands, the wrists, the forearms, the elbows, and the upper arms and shoulder sockets (in which the upper arms turn).

He makes the key point that the turning elements support and respond to the swinging elements.  Swinging comes first, turning comes second.

Let’s move to Manuel de la Torre, who refines this concept in his book, Understanding the Golf Swing.  He says (writing in broad terms) the hands produce the backswing, and the arms produce the forward swing.

On that second point, he uses the anatomical definition of the arm, which is the upper limb from the elbow to the shoulder.  The limb from the elbow to the wrist is the forearm, and that is not used to produce the forward swing.

How do you integrate these two motions, the turn and the swing?  For the recreational golfer, Flick advises “to let his feet and legs support him and move in response to the swing.” (I’ll assume that applies to women, too.)

de la Torre says the body turn takes place in response to the swing, and says nothing more about it.  As far as the weight shift goes, which you hear about so much, the swing will produce it.

Both instructors are in firm agreement that the underlying concept in all of this is that what is swung is the club, not any body part.  The club.

Let me throw in one idea that helps keep the swing and the turn working together.  Flick calls it, “letting the air out.”  The first move forward with the arms is a gravity move.  The arms begin to drop in response to the pull of gravity.  “Tour players will tell you they want to soften their arms precisely at the change of direction.”

Centrifugal force will build up the necessary speed by the moment of impact.  By not forcing things at this critical instant, the swinging and turning elements integrate.

So there you have it: two turns and a swish (swing).  Part of the body turns, part of it swings.  Get those two parts straightened out and you’re on your way to hitting beautiful golf shots.

A Few Thoughts on Pressure

About a month or so ago, I posted on why you should learn to play without pressure rather than building pressure into your game on the practice ground.

Yesterday, a GOLFWRX newsletter presented an article titled, “Here’s why your practice sessions right now are probably worthless.”

Yep, you guessed it.  The writer said they are worthless because there is no pressure involved.

So I wrote a reply which I wish I had saved, because I submitted it but it didn’t get accepted for publication.  It’s not hard at all to get published on a golf forum, and we see comments from trolls getting by the censor, but I guess my comment was too incendiary.

I dared to suggest that controlling the mind is a skill that has nothing to do with golf, but with life, and the reason instructors and touring professionals attempt to find ways to accept pressure rather than eliminate it is they do not know the first thing about how the mind works.

I remember Greg Norman saying during his playing days he would never listen to a golf psychologist because none of them knew what it as like to be hitting into the 15th green at Augusta while in contention Sunday, so who were they to tell him what pressure was.  He also said upon reflection when his career was over that attitude was a big mistake on his part.

So if you have a pro who can teach you how to flush a 5-iron, I would listen.  But I would listen at arm’s length when they start telling you about pressure and how the mind works.  They’re most likely telling you what is in the air without having ever dipped further into it than that.

But I have.  So listen up.

What is pressure?  How does it get created?  It takes three conditions for pressure to arise.  In no particular order,

1. You are in a situation where you need to perform at your highest level.
2. You have only one chance to get it right.
3. You have judged the price of failure to be high.

This list could apply to a five-foot putt.  It could apply just as well to a business presentation of importance to your firm.  It could apply to rock climbing, where one wrong move could cost you severe injury or your life.

To prevent #1 from getting to you, practice to the point that you know what you are doing and have all confidence that you will get it right.  Then just do what you’ve practiced.

We all know that when we hit that five-footer a second time, after we missed it the first time, it goes in.  Why?  Because we did not feel pressure!!!  So learn to have that second feeling when you hit your first putt.  It’s entirely possible.

#3 should be easy to deal with.  In the grand scheme of life, there are things that can happen to you that are truly costly if you fail, but missing a five-foot putt is not one of them.  If the price or chance of failure is to high, then don’t put yourself in that situation.

That’s the theory.  To put it into practice, read my book, The Golfing Self.  It teaches you how to develop a mind that is impervious to pressure.

Remember, pressure is all created within you.  The other three members of your foursome aren’t nervous at all watching you stand over that five-foot putt.  They’re probably thinking.  “Good grief!  It’s a straight putt.  Just hit it!”

You can listen to professional golfers speak from ignorance and build pressure into your game, or you can develop your mind to play a care-free game of golf and do just as well, probably better.

Your choice.

A Small Golf Reference Library

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re a golf reader.   (Not everybody is.)   You might have more than a few golf books at home, too.   Nothing wrong with that.   I have several score.

These are the ones I have found to be most useful in teaching technique, diagnosing problems, and just plain having fun with golf.

On Learning Golf, by Percy Boomer, 1946. The original book on how to be a feel player.   This book still has influence.

Advanced Golf, by Vivien Saunders, 1995. Saunders goes into detail on points that barely get mentioned in popular instruction books.   Once you get the hang of the basic swing, this is how you elevate it.

Golf Doctor, by John Jacobs (also published as Curing Faults for Weekend Golfers), 1979. Jacobs describes twenty-five errant shot patterns, explains why they happen, and tells what to do about them, in detail that no other book even approaches.   Whatever is going wrong, it’s in here.

The Elements of Scoring, by Raymond Floyd, 1998. This is absolutely the best book there is on both the mental game and the art of getting the ball in the hole.

The Complete Golfer, Herbert Warren Wind, ed., 1954. Great fun.   Fiction, humor, memoirs, history, instruction, and fold-out maps of great courses.   This book is for people who realize there was golf before Tiger Woods, or even Palmer, Player, and Nicklaus, or want want to find out about it.

A few others:
The Golf Swing, by Cary Middlecoff, 1974.
Play Golf the Wright Way, by Mickey Wright, 1990.
The Short Way to Lower Scoring, by Paul Runyan, 1979.
A Golfer’s Education, by Darren Kilfara, 2001.
How to Play Golf on the Low 120’s, by Stephen Baker, 1962.

How to Practice Your Swing

Golf swing practice should be, at its core, learning how to repeat your swing, and learning it so thoroughly that when you play you never have to think about what your swing is doing, but rather where the ball is going to go.

You don’t learn how to do that by swinging over and over. You learn by breaking down your swing and building it back up, one part at a time. And repeating that endlessly.

Let me go to music to demonstrate what I’m saying.

When you learn a new piece, you first memorize it in little bits, a few measures at a time. You would start with the most difficult parts, because they need the most work.

After all of the piece has been memorized, you learn how to play the little bits smoothly, and how to connect them. It’s a slow building-up process that leads to playing the piece all the way through.

When the entire piece has been learned, you practice it, not by playing it all the way through over and over, even though you can, but by playing and connecting those little bits, just like you did when you were learning it.

You build up larger and larger compilations of the little bits until you are playing the entire piece. You’re always working on the details, so none of them get forgotten.

That is how you practice your golf swing. You should know what the little bits are that make you swing work. Practice each one, in isolation, to drill them into your unconscious mind.

Then build up your swing, one bit at a time, until you are swinging from start to finish, hitting all the bits you were practicing.

Then go do all that again.

How many times have you hit a bad shot and thought when it was over, “Oh, no. I forgot to do X.”

You most likely forgot to do X because you don’t practice X. You make only full swings and hope that part gets right somehow. But it never will get right until you practice that part alone. And all the other parts as well, each one by itself.

At the range, build up your swing, bit by bit, before every ball gets hit. After you hit that ball, repeat the building-up process again from the very start.

This method seems slow because you will make fewer full swings. It actually accelerates learning. Not to mention, the full swings you do make will be linked up and just like you want them to be.

A Few Random Golf Notes

No essay today. Just a few odds and ends that have come to mind lately.

1. That the forward swing begins with the movement of the left hip is beyond doubt, but what that movement is, exactly, is a matter of confusion. There is a slide and a turn. But which one comes first and how much of a movement is each one? Let’s make the matter simpler.

Think of the first move forward as pushing your left hip straight back behind you. Now it cannot exactly go straight backward. To go back it has to turn somewhat and there will be a bit of a slide, too. Also, your weight will get off the right side early, like it should.

By thinking about it this way, whether the slide or the turn happens first is no longer an issue. They will both happen at the right time and that’s all you need to worry about.

If you try this, make sure the hip goes backward in rhythm. Don’t snap it back quickly.

2. A few years ago, the Play It Forward campaign was big. Play from the right set of tees and you will shoot lower scores and have more fun. There’s another reason why playing it forward pays off. It makes you a better golfer over time.

Because the course is shorter you will be hitting more shots that are within your ability to hit. This means you will learn how to score. Instead of always playing catch-up, you will always be on offense. You will learn how to dictate to the course instead of the course dictating to you.

You might want to play for a while from tees that are too short, then back up with your new mindset.

3. A few years ago I talked to you about the clubs I used to chip with. It was a set that went from lob wedge through 8-iron. The chipping stroke I used was somewhat of a downward blow with a little bit of punch to it.

Recently I have changed my chipping stroke to one that is more of a level brushing stroke. It gradually became clear that the clubs I calibrated earlier did not work well with the new stroke.

Since the blow with a brush is not as sharp, the ball does not leap off the clubface as it does with the downward stroke. All I had to do to recalibrate my chipping set was to move up by two clubs.

For example, where I had been using a lob wedge I now use a gap wedge to chip to a certain distance, or instead of a pitching wedge I use an 8-iron to send the ball an equivalent distance.

4. Remember that we play golf in order to have fun with friends. Of course we want to get better, but improvement occurs gradually. Having fun happens anytime we want to. First things first.