Category Archives: fundamentals

Aim Your Golf Swing Visually

You have no doubt heard of aiming your golf swing by sighting from your target backwards to the ball and aligning yourself using that imaginary line.  But you can still go wrong with that method.  You need a way to check it before you start your swing.

When you are in your stance and ready to start the club back, you might well take one more look at the target.  Use that glance to check your aim.

Looking downrange you will see a picture that contains your target.  Where that target lies in the picture tells you where you have aimed yourself.

The two pictures below show what I mean.  The first picture shows you what you would see if you stood facing the flagstick and looked straight at it.

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The second picture shows you what you see when you are in your stance and turn your head.  The flagstick is considerably to the left of where you saw it when looking straight on.

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When you practice your aim at the driving range, get into a setup you know is properly aimed and pay special attention to where the flagstick lies in the picture you see when you turn your head.  That image is what you want to remember.  It won’t take more than a few practice sessions to learn it.

To help you fix that location, notice when you turn your head and look to the left, you will see an out-of-focus image of the bridge of your nose framing the picture on its left edge.  The flagstick will be somewhere near that image, the exact location depending on how flexible your neck is.  

(Unfortunately, I’m not good enough at altering images to include this frame on the photograph, but if you look to the left only by moving your eyes you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

During play, if you see the flagstick more to the left of where it should be, you are aimed too far to the right.  Or if you see the flagstick more to the right it means you are aimed too far to the left.

To make this check on your aim work, you must be sure to turn your head the same amount every time so the target will show up in the same place when correctly aimed at.

I watch the people I play golf with set up.  Every so often, one of them hits a beautiful shot that goes ten yards to the right of the green.

“How did that happen,” they ask in vain. “It happened because that’s where you were aimed,” I say to myself.

Your Setup–One Key to Consistent Contact

A friend of mine told me while we were playing one day, that someone looked into how it is that Justin Thomas, who isn’t a very big guy, drives the ball so far.

One of his keys is that he hits the ball on the center of the clubface.  Every time.  It might have been on impact tape or something, but the impression after a good number of drives was about the size of a quarter.

How does he do that?  I can’t say how his swing makes that happen, because I don’t know.  But I can say for sure that one thing which makes it happen is his setup.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that he sets up the same distance from the ball every time, the ball is in the same place in his stance every time, his posture is the same every time, his hands are in the same place every time, and so on.

I would also bet that if you took a picture from the same spot every time and overlaid all those photos on top of each other, you wouldn’t see much leakage, if any, around the edges, if you know what I mean.

By starting out in the same place every time, in every respect, Thomas gives his swing every chance to return the clubhead to the ball in the same place every time.

Here’s an example taken from the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing.  It shows the variation in foot position in a 24-handicapper and a professional golfer.  The pro is consistent, and the amateur is all over the place.

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Was else I can tell you for sure is that a major cause of inconsistent ball-striking is an inconsistent setup.  I would go so far as to say you should practice your setup as much as you practice your swing.

Let’s drill in on this point.  Say you hit a tremendous drive.  On the next hole, you unknowingly set up with the ball one inch farther away from you than it was on the last hole.  If you make the same swing, you will miss the sweet spot on the clubface by an inch.

But you won’t make the same swing, because you’re reaching out a little bit farther than you did last time and that is enough to change everything.  Your unconscious mind knows you’re out of position and will try, in vain, to compensate. You won’t hit anywhere near as good a drive and then wonder what happened to your swing.

What happened was that an inconsistent setup forced that good swing out of existence.  Simple as that.

My instructor had me buy a four-foot metal ruler to practice my setup. With this, you can ensure your feet are the same distance apart, and the ball is in the same place.  Being consistent with these two things alone will by themselves improve your ball-striking.

We practice our swing to make it as much the same as we can every time, but what’s the use of having a repeating swing if your setup is all over the map?

And when you’re trying to develop a repeating swing, you might keep correcting this or that when your swing is just fine and it’s your setup that needs work.

So here are a few things to think about in your setup, all of which make a difference:

Grip alignment (orientation of Vs)
Grip pressure
Where on the handle you place your hands *
Clubface alignment (open, square, closed)
Distance from the ball *
Location of the ball in your stance *
Posture of your back
Amount of bend in your neck
Amount of bend in your hips and knees *
Shape of your arms
Distance between your elbows
Height of your stance *
Distribution of weight across the feet (front-back, side-side)
Amount that your toes are turned out
Alignment of feet
Alignment of shoulders
The feeling that you are “in the slot”

* This will vary by the club used, must be the same per club.

A Few More Golf Thoughts

The golf swing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler (Albert Einstein?)

When your swing goes south during a round, re-group.   Play the next hole with your 8-iron.   8-iron off the tee, 8-iron down the fairway, then a lesser club to get you on the green, where two putts will get you a bogey.   On the next hole after that, go back to your usual game and swing whatever club you use just like you swung the 8-irons.

Close to breaking 100, or 90, or 80, but just can’t shed those one or two strokes?   Play a round from the forward tees once, and break through.   Now that you’ve done it, the monkey is off your back, and you can return to your regular tees and enjoy golf again.

Anything you want to do with a golf ball, hit it straight, far, curve it, spin it, high, low, anything, starts with hitting it on the center of the clubface.   That, is golf’s fundamental skill.

Ben Hogan said that in the forward swing, you can’t turn your hips too fast.   That is good advice as long as you do not swing out from under yourself.   The hips turn, but they must carry the torso with them and not leave it behind.

Try playing a round in which every shot into the green, from no matter from how far away, ends up past the flagstick, and see what that gets you.   If you think a 6-iron will do, take a 5, grip down an inch and swing away.   If you’re chipping, make sure the ball stops past the hole, not short of it.   You score by getting the ball up to the hole, not by sneaking up on the hole.

I really like 2s.   When you put a 2 on your scorecard, everyone knows exactly what happened.   A 3 could be several things, so could a 4, and a 5 could be a double bogey.   But a 2 means only one thing.   I like 2s a whole lot.

It is true that the less tension you have in your swing the faster the clubhead can go.   At address, you should be completely relaxed–not limp like a noodle, but have no tension anywhere.   Most of us are OK on the backswing, but when the forward swing starts is where tension can come in, especially if you want to hit the bill hard.   What you really want to do is hit the ball fast, and that means…no tension.   I have found in my swing that the place where tension comes in and slows down my swing is in the muscles of the upper torso.    If I keep this area relaxed, the clubhead screams through the ball with ungodly fury, yet it is still under control.    Try it.   Try keeping that part of your torso relaxed on the forward swing and see how much more clubhead speed you get.

Just before you take your putter back, lift it up so the sole is off the ground and just touches the top of the grass.   Now you can start your stroke.   The difference between starting the stroke by swinging straight back and going up a bit first then back, is significant.

Your Golf Swing’s Red Line

You know what the red line is. It’s the line on the tachometer of your car that you dare not rev the engine beyond unless you want to ruin it. Shift, already!

Your golf swing has red line, too. Keep your swing speed under it, and your swing will perform the way it is supposed to. Exceed it and, well, . . .

Before I go on, let me be clear that when I say swing speed, I mean how fast you pivot and swing your arms. That’s not the same as clubhead speed, which usually refers to the velocity of the clubhead as it hits the ball. This post is about swing speed. Another name for that is tempo.

It might seem that if you want the clubhead to be moving faster when it hits the ball, you need to move faster, too. Although there can be a direct relationship between swing speed and clubhead speed, there can be an inverse relationship.

Oh sure, if you watch many modern Touring pros swing, they swing hard and fast and hit the ball way out there. But we’re not them. If most of us tried to swing as fast as they do, our body would get so tight that we would actually slow down the clubhead.

When you swing at a speed that is right for you, and it’s not going to be as fast as you can, the clouds part, the sun shines down upon you, the violins swell, and golf becomes a simple game.

In my earlier writings, I said to find your swing speed (tempo) you should start slowly and speed up until you have gone too far, then back down. Now I want to suggest trying the opposite approach.

Go to the range, and after you have thoroughly warmed up, hit balls with a 6- or 7-iron, swinging as fast as you can and yet stay in reasonable control of the goings on. Hit maybe a dozen balls this way. Be sure to rest in between shots.

Hopefully that sustained outburst should make you good and tired, so slow things down a little bit now. Try swinging as fast as you can without feeling like you’re swinging fast, with a gentle up and down rhythm. Try hitting a dozen balls with a swing that like that instead of “Hold on to your hats!”

I will not be surprised, though you might be, that the slower swing speed dramatically improves your ball-striking. You make much better contact than before, get better ball flight, the ball goes in a consistent direction, and you get pretty good distance. Did I leave anything out?

Melding Rhythm and Tempo

As I search for ways to play better golf, and pass my findings on to you, I never stop looking for ways to integrate rhythm and tempo into my swing.

I have suggested ways to find the 3:1 rhythm, and ways to find your right tempo, which varies from player to player. But these cannot be learned separately and then put together. You could get very good at swinging with a 3:1 rhythm, but if you move to a new tempo, your rhythm can break down. You would have to re-learn 3:1 all over again. Rhythm and tempo must be learned simultaneously as a unified pair by using the same exercise.

About a month ago I found a copy of John Novosel’s book, Tour Tempo, at a used book sale. This book teaches you the 3:1 rhythm at different tempi. (The book should really be titled, Tour Rhythm, by the way.) By swinging along with any one of the audio files, you are learn rhythm and tempo together.

There is on problem with these files, though. Only three discrete tempi are given, and none of them might be suitable for you. The slowest one, 27/9 (3:1 ratio) is too slow for me, and the next fastest one, 24/8, is too fast. These integer-based selections are the result of Novosel playing a video of a swing frame by frame and counting frames. Yet, a tempo of 25.892/8.631 might be just the ticket. And it’s still 3:1.

You can’t solve this problem by getting a feel for the 3:1 rhythm and then modifying it in your head as you swing. It is too easy to adjust your counting to your swing instead of adjusting your swing to the correct count. Musicians practice with a metronome* to prevent that from happening with their instrument.

There is a simple solution, though. If you have Windows Media Player** on your computer, you can adjust the speed settings to almost whatever you want. Then, you could play the TT audio files, say the 27/9 one, and speed it up bit by bit until you find the tempo you like. Or, you could start with 24/8 and slow it down. Either way would work. You can write down the new speed setting that WMP shows you so you can go back to it again.

I strongly recommend you use the TT audio files to get this vital technique built into your swing. Swinging with correct, unified rhythm and tempo is one of the best golfing habits you can have. It forgives many sins.

* A metronome, though, is inadequate for this task. The metronome must be set so there is a tick at the moment you start the club down from the top, and the next tick must be when the ball is struck. This is the 1 part of 3:1. The 27/9 tempo corresponds to a metronome setting of 200. The highest setting on a metronome is 208, which yields a rhythm of 25.95/8.65. If you need to go faster, you’re stuck.

** If you have Mac, you can use VLC, but that only produces discrete, not continuous, speed adjustments.

To Be In Position

I was hitting plastic balls at my backyard driving range earlier today, and just not getting the results I wanted. Everything was a hair fat. So I moved the ball a half inch back in my stance. Bingo.

One of Ken Venturi’s basic teaching precepts is that players do not get out of swing, the get out of position. Put them back into position and the swing comes back. So many times it isn’t the swing that needs correcting, it’s the position.

This means grip, stance, posture, and ball position. Grip: where do the Vs point? How many knuckles do you see? Stance: how far apart are your feet? To where do the toes point? Posture: How much do your knees bend? How much does your back or neck bend? How far apart are your elbows? Ball position: how far from the ball do you stand? Where is the ball from front to back of your stance?

Practice these. Actually practice them. Get in and out of your setup and learn your position well enough so that you never have to find it — you get into it automatically.

This will solve so many problems before they start.

Your Stance

Have you ever stood over the ball just knowing that this shot is going to be one of your best? And when you make your swing that’s exactly what happens?

Now remember the times when you stood over the ball and you started worrying about where the ball was going to go because you KNEW there was something wrong. Or whether you would be able to make good contact and you didn’t.

Ken Venturi said many times that good players do not get out of swing. They get out of position. You put them back in position and their swing comes back.

That’s what your stance does for you. It gets you in position to make your best swing.

I would imagine you never practice your stance. If that’s true, then please start getting into the habit.

You can do this inside your house. Drop a ball on the carpet and address it with your 5-iron. How do you feel? Do you have that feeling of great confidence, or is it just you standing up to the ball?

Break your stance, take a few steps away, then approach the ball and set up again. How about now?

What you’re watching out for are minute changes in your grip, in your posture, in ball position, and anything else that makes one stance feel different from another.

What you’re practicing is perhaps the most important thing you can practice. Your swing emerges from your stance. Your stance leads into your swing. Good golf is played by making your best swing more often, and that means taking your best stance more often.

When you’re in position, you don’t need swing thoughts, and you don’t need to think about whether this will be a good shot or not. Your mind gets filled with the quiet confidence that all you have to do is get the club in motion and everything will be all right.

Believe me, when I’m at the range and I’m in position, I KNOW that my best shot is coming up next. My bad shots? They didn’t happen because my swing changed. They came because I took my stance for granted and couldn’t swing the way I wanted to.

Of course you want to practice your swing, but spend time practicing your stance, too. It will really pay off.

My Guest Spot on The Golf Fix

I got a call from The Golf Channel a few weeks ago saying they liked my blog and would I like to be a guest on The Golf Fix. I said, sure. They said bring three things to talk about. I said that would be easy.

So when Michael Breed asks me what I have for the viewers, I will mention three things that if every golfer could do them, the sound of the nationwide crash of handicaps plummeting would be enough to put the National Guard on alert.

Faithful readers of this space should already know what two of them are.

The first one is rhythm and tempo — 3:1 rhythm from takeaway to impact, at a tempo that lets you get the center of the clubface on the ball.

The second one is the hands lead the clubhead into impact. This leads to mastery. The clubhead getting to the ball first leads to one disaster after another.

The third one is to replace your urge to hit the golf ball with the joy of swinging the golf club. If there’s a ball in the way of the swing, so much the better.

Then I would show drills you could use for each point.

To get rhythm and tempo right, just count as you swing. 1 is the moment of takeaway, 2, 3, 4 to the top, and 5 at impact, performed at a pace (tempo) that, to you, feels unhurried.

For the hands leading the clubhead, I demonstrate drill from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book on swinging down slowly to hip level three times and on the fourth, at the same speed, continuing down and through the ball.

For the third point, I would say take practice swings, as many as you like, with a ball in front of you, but a few inches farther away so you can see it, but won’t hit it. By seeing the ball but never hitting it, you gradually replace “hit” in your mind with “swing.”

I would say, Do each of these drills for two minutes every day (six minutes, total), and see what you get after 60 days.

Then I would look at Michael, who for once would be speechless. After all, what more would there be to say?

This is what I’ll present for my guest spot on The Golf Fix. But you don’t have to wait. Start doing these three things right now, and let me know in 60 days how it came out.

So when will my fifteen minutes of fame be on the air? Well, unfortunately they had the wrong number. When they realized who they were really talking to, they apologized and hung up.

I guess all this will remain our little secret, and my little fantasy.

[April 2018 note: Now that The Golf Fix is no longer on the air, it’s even more important that you read this blog, because where else are you going find instruction that speaks to your game?]

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion — do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger — no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead — no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.