All posts by recgolfer

A Golf Swing Epiphany

I have a video on YouTube that talks about the straight left arm–what that term really means. It is by far the most popular of all my videos for some reason.

It’s really good advice to keep your left arm straight, because if you bend your elbow you introduce another lever into your swing. Two levers, the wrist and the shoulder, are enough. No need to add a third.

But I found out a few days ago that’s exactly what I do when I’m swinging at my best. I bend my left elbow.

For years, the major thrust of all my personal golf swing research has been to figure out how to keep the clubface square from takeaway to impact. It’s pretty hard to do, because the forearms can rotate too much or not enough, and the wrists can do almost anything. Getting these two to behave isn’t easy.

And then there’s who knows what else.

When I was playing very well, back in 2011 before things started happening (long-time readers know what they are), I always had this feeling at the tail end of my backswing that my wrists were bending a bit extra because of the momentum of the swing.

They seemed to always get back into line in the forward swing, though, because one of the hallmarks of my game was and still is that I hit the ball very straight.

But I never felt that extra bending of my wrists was the right thing to be happening, so I tried hard to eliminate it by deliberately doing things to prevent the bending feeling from coming up.

The problem was, those corrections didn’t improve matters, and they turned a free and easy swing into a lot of work.

So in the past few months I decided to go look for that swing feeling and get it back again. I found it last week, and when I did I quickly realized I had been all wrong all this time.

It wasn’t my wrists that were bending. It was my left elbow.

My left shoulder isn’t flexible enough to get my hands to where the momentum of my backswing wants to take them, so my elbow bends to get them there. The feeling in my wrists is caused by the weight of the club, not by any extraneous movement in them.

On the forward swing, the elbow straightens out again and I’m still in business with a square clubface.

I’m going on about this because it is a perfect example of what I wrote about a few weeks ago . Something so fundamental as a straight left arm is something I do NOT do, and when I try to do it, I don’t hit the ball well. That swing is not ME.

Gary Player once said something along the lines of, “Name me any swing fundamental and I’ll show you a championship golfer who doesn’t do it.”

I doubt Player had me in mind when he said that, but it’s true. Fundamentals get you in the ball park, but if they mess you up, modify them until your swing is YOU.

There is only one way for you to swing a golf club, and that is YOUR way.

Golf Isn’t Hard Work

Whenever I go to the range, which is about once every other week, there’s this guy who is always there. Always. With a big pile of balls in front of him.

I’m not sure what he’s up to. Maybe he just likes to hit golf balls. If that’s his retirement hobby (and he’s gotta be retired to be there at 10 every morning), fine with me.

But if he’s trying to improve, I don’t know how being out there all the time and hitting so many balls is going to do it.

I’ve seen what he can do. He hits the ball really well, about as well as he ever will, and as well as a recreational golfer needs to.

He knows how to swing the club. All he really needs is a reminder every so often so he doesn’t forget or start drifting.

In this month’s Golf Digest there is an article “by” Dustin Johnson on how he practices. He says he hits mostly wedge shots, then chips and putts. He’ll hit a few shots with the longer clubs, then he goes to play.

He’s keeping his swing in tune, but putting time in on what goes away fast if you let it slide–the short game. Pounding balls is not part of his practice plan.

I read once that not many pros thought all the drivers Vijay Singh used to hit did him any good at all. After a few he wasn’t adding anything.

I would say to you, if you know how your swing works*, get a small bucket of about 30 balls, hit half of them with full swings, and the rest with your wedges to different targets.

Another key point Johnson made is one my pro made to me a few years ago. You need a new perspective every so often. Staying in the same place at the range and hitting to the same target doesn’t prepare you for the course, where every shot has a different look.

Either hit to different targets, or hit to the same target but move to a new spot some distance away so the look of the shot is new. That gives you the sense of playing that should be part of your practice.

In 2014 I published my Six Fundamentals. They’re my swing keys, and I hit only enough balls to make sure I’m still doing them so I get good results.

One point in them is rather subtle, but it is that the forward swing is driven by the right side. This is from Fundamental 4, The Right Knee Moves Left. In the same issue of Golf Digest, Butch Harmon has a piece on hitting your irons. He says,

“The third piece [of being in position] is driving your right side–arm, shoulder, knee–at the target.”

Butch Harmon charges three million dollars an hour for the same advice you get here for free.

Stick with me, kid.



*Write down your own set of fundamentals, or swing keys, or whatever you want to call them, that your swing depends on so you can always refer to them when things go wrong.

Golf is Personal

Whenever you read a golf instruction book, or watch a video on YouTube, that instruction is fixed. Everyone reads, sees, and hears the same thing. But what each person needs to do to make that instruction work will be different. That’s because golf is personal.

By “personal”, I mean everyone is different in their size, strength, flexibility, conformation, and conception of athletic movement. This means everyone has to do something a little bit different to install the same bit of instruction into their swing.

I can only use myself for an example to explain what I mean.

When you take the club away, the face should rotate open to stay square to the swing path. When I bring the club back, my natural preference is for my right forearm to stay oriented toward the ball somewhat, and not rotate clockwise. I don’t try to do that, it’s just me.

The effect of this is for the clubface to close. So, I hit a lot of hooks unless…

…I begin my swing with a gentle push by the left hand. Now my left arm dominates, the right arm turns like it supposed to, and the clubface stays square.

Or when I pitch. This one absolutely drives me nuts. From out of nowhere, SHANK! It’s just a short stroke. How can you hit a hosel rocket? Well, getting back to the right hand.

If I try to control the shot with my right hand, I discovered the club pops outside a bit on takeaway. Now the swing plane is forward of its position at address. The shank is baked in and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So again, I begin the takeaway with a gentle push by the left hand, which keeps the club on plane.

Two problems, same solution, because of the same tendency.

Here’s a different one. I will see the hole to the left of where is really is when I stand up to a short putt. Needless to say, I miss to the left more than to the right.

I pointed this out during a playing lesson, and the pro noticed right away that I wasn’t standing square to the line of the putt. My feet were in place, but my hips were turned a tiny bit to the right. This had me looking around a corner to find the hole.

I don’t align my hips deliberately that way, that’s just what happens when I take my stance. So when I get into my putting stance now I always kink my hips the slightest bit counter-clockwise to get square.

These are three examples, and I could give you more if I thought about it, but you get the point.

I’m doing everything right, but by just being me I introduce tiny errors that put me off by just enough to make the difference between a good shot and a not so good one.

It will do you some good to investigate the mistakes you’re making to find out if they are errors in technique, or errors that have only your name on them.

If it’s truly the second, you can keep doing what you’re doing and build in another move to compensate, or, much easier, build in a prevention so you’re right from start to finish.

Really, I think you’re much closer to being a better golfer than you are now if you can only attend to these little details. When you figure how precise the impact geometry has to be to hit a good shot, it only takes a little detail to throw it all off. Correct the little details and you might start playing a different kind of golf.

Getting Ready For Spring

About a month ago, I posted some suggestions for your winter practice. I was following that plan at the time, but you know how my mind wanders, so I thought I would let you know what is going right now.

It’s hard to practice approach putting when it’s raining so much and the practice greens are soaked, so most of my putting practice goes on in my back room on a very short-pile carpet–perfect for the task.

I am firmly committed to the two-putter plan. That has me practicing up to ten-foot putts with my face-balanced putter, at least nightly, and whenever I’m home with nothing important to do (which is all the time when I’m home).

When I go to the the range, I bring my sand wedge and my pitching wedge. I pick out a target on the ground and try to drop a ball right on top of it. I don’t pitch to an area. I pitch to a spot. Most of the time it’s a ball lying out there somewhere.

I have been doing this for years at the range, and have developed a sense over that time of what a distance feels like and what I have to do to hit the ball there, just by looking at it. Sometimes I get the ball so close it’s scary.

Not bragging here. If you practice something often enough you get good at it.

As far as the swing goes, I am deep into a new (for me) mental approach to it.

I have written about Gabrielle Wulf’s work on the benefit of external focus (in golf, the club) rather than internal focus (the golfer) in learning, improving, and performing.

Now let’s combine that with the Ernest Jones method of “swing the clubhead.” To me, that is an early expression of external focus. By swinging the clubhead, the body will automatically do the right thing.

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it is on the right track.

I swing a Titleist 20.5° fairway wood (975J) in my back room. I take the club back slowly with a gentle push by the left hand. Slow is important because I want to feel the clubhead throughout the swing. If the start is too fast, that feel will not emerge.

The backswing is nothing more than feeling the clubhead move back and up. The forward swing is the same. I feel the clubhead move down, around, and through.

My mind is on nothing else than the clubhead moving. I mentally follow its movement back and forward again. I really have no concept of what my body is doing, because my mind is on something else, so getting stuck on technique is out the window.

I can’t think about hitting the ball, hitting it a long way, hoping I will hit a good shot, or any other irrelevant and destructive thought. It’s just, follow the clubhead.

The results I’m getting are very good. I’m hitting good shots easily.

If you want to try this, I suggest you begin with a sand wedge, because its weight makes the clubhead easy to feel throughout the swing. There is no need to bend way over when you swing it. Stand up in your driver stance and pretend your sand wedge is a short driver.

I have been through a lot with my health in the past six years. I am unable to play golf the way I used to, but that doesn’t mean I can no longer play good golf. It means I have to find a different way. I have growing confidence that this is the way.

My Golf Predictions for 2018

Here we are at the top of a new season. Those of you who live in sunny climates can start it right after you read this post, but the rest of us, who live in the other 80% of the country, will have to wait until about April to start playing the golf we know we are capable of.

It’s also a time for predictions for the new year. Here are mine. I guarantee they will come true.

1. Somewhere in Michigan a golfer trying to break 90 for the first time will finally leave his driver home, and shoot 88.

2. Golf writers will start worshiping Tiger as if they were 10 year-olds (actually, it’s already started, and in the golfing press it’s already all Tiger, all the time).

3. Jim Nantz will continue to be the sappiest announcer on the air. Johnny Miller will retire after the end of the year and by March 2019 everyone will miss him.

4. Golf courses across the country will start selling partial rounds, depending on the layout of the course, to serve people who do not have the time to play nine, let alone 18.

5. Gary Player will do 36,500 sit-ups.

6. One day you will play your usual game from tee to green, but putt the lights out, and beat your best-ever score by five strokes. From then on you will spend more time on the practice green than you ever have, and reap the rewards.

7. You will slow down your swing and learn to live with the extra distance you get.

8. Manufacturers will come out with new clubs that cost a LOT of money, and promise you the moon. You will decide to take half that amount of money, spend it on lessons and green fees instead, and become a better golfer with the clubs you already have.

9. The Recreational Golfer will continue to be the best unknown golf blog in America, but it’s OK if that one doesn’t come true (the unknown part).

Play well, and have fun in 2018.

How to Practice Hitting the Ball First, Ground Second

We all know that when the ball is on the ground, we should hit the ball first and the ground second. The wrong way to make that happen is to deliberately guide the club into doing that with your hands. That just interfered with my swing as it went through impact when I did it that way.

So I’m trying something else now. I get a fairway wood, and set up, drawing a line in my mind where the leading edge of the clubhead is on the ground. Then I take a swing and make the effort with my swing, not my hands, to let the sole of the clubhead thump the ground in front of that line.

You most likely will have to adjust your swing slightly to make that happen. I couldn’t begin to describe how my swing got adjusted, so I’ll leave it up you to figure that out for yourself.

I like to use a fairway wood instead of an iron, because outdoors, I don’t make a mess on the ground with divots and get my club dirty, and I can do this indoors without damaging the carpet.

I’m still working on this, the adjustments aren’t automatic yet, so I can’t say if the effort will actually pay off. But the idea makes sense to me, so I’ll invest in it.