Category Archives: practice

External Focus in Golf

A few weeks ago, while cruising around the web, I found out about external vs. internal focus in learning motor skills, especially related to golf. It goes right to the core of what you need to think you’re doing when you are taught something, learning it by yourself, or even practicing something you already know how to do.

The difference between internal and external focus is simple. Internal focus involves instructions for moving body parts–what you need to do. External focus, in golf, revolves around what the club needs to do. Then you do what ever you have to to get that result. (The ghost of Ernest Jones is nodding his head.)

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Subjects who had never hit a golf ball before were taught grip, stance, and posture for a pitch shot. Then the subjects were split into two groups.

The internal focus group (IFG) was taught how their arms move, bend, and straighten at various points in the swing. The external focus group (EFG) was taught how the club swings like a pendulum. When swinging the club they were to “focus on the weight of the clubhead, the straight-line direction of the clubhead path, and the acceleration of the clubhead moving toward the bottom of the arc.”

After practicing what they were taught, all subjects hit blocks of ten golf balls each to a target 50 feet away. Outcomes were measured by how close the ball landed to the center of the target.

The results were that the (EGF) performed significantly better than (IFG). As the trials proceeded, both groups improved, but the IFG never caught up to the EFG. The EFG recorded good scores more frequently, and lower scores less frequently, than the IFG.

Remember a few months ago when I suggested that you you think of the chipping stroke as brushing the ground with the sole of the club? Little did I know that was external focus.

What does this mean for you? Everything. It means you’ll learn faster when you practice like this–working on what the club is supposed to do, not what you’re supposed to do. It means when you play, if there is a swing thought in your head (which I don’t recommend at all), it needs to be about what the club is doing and not about you.

A Few Golf Things

Not a very catchy title, is it? I couldn’t think of what else to call this post and still build in a little SEO. So no great ideas this week, just a few things I’ve been fiddling with, and a story.

1. Practice your putting stroke at home, maybe ten or so strokes a day. Not a lot, just enough to keep the feeling of how you do it from slipping away. Putt a ball to a target while doing this. I use a jar opener for a target. You can get one at a grocery store. It’s a thin sheet of rubber about five inches on a side, with a lot of raised bumps. If you trace out a circle on it using a 24-oz. can of tomatoes as your guide, you can cut out a “hole” just about 4¼” in diameter. You can also take this ersatz hole to the practice green and drop it where you want a hole to be, if the ones already cut out aren’t where you want to putt/chip to.

2. Lately I have taken to swinging a 7-iron in my living room late at night with the lights out. Don’t worry, you won’t hit the ceiling. Just make sure you’re clear of ceiling-mounted light fixtures. Swinging in the dark will improve your balance, since you don’t have the visual cues you normally use to stay in balance. It also slows down your swing so you’re actually swinging, not clobbering.

3. A little thought I’ve been using for a while concerning the driver is a way to make sure the clubhead is moving upward when it contacts the ball. Before I address the ball I think not about hitting it square on the back, but a bit below that, on the underside. Now I know that’s not possible, but it does give the unconscious mind a way to tell the body how to hit the ball with the clubhead on the rise. Make sure as well your hands lead the clubhead. By all means turn off the conscious mind when you swing. Just a smidgen of thinking about hitting under the ball will ruin the effort.

4. Once at the range my son asked me to hit a ball as hard as I could. I think I had a 6-iron or so in my hand. So I did, and it went a long way. Then, I said, “Watch this.” I put my normal swing on the ball, which doesn’t have any “hit” in, and the ball went five yards less. How much can you slow down your swing with a particular club and still get the same distance out of it? Try it.

Actually, I didn’t really hit the first ball as hard as I could. I did that another time while playing in a 4-club tournament. I was 170 yards from the green. I had a 7-iron, my 140-yard club, and a 19* hybrid, my 200-yard club, in the bag. I didn’t want to ease up on the hybrid, because you can really hit a terrible shot that way. So I had to clobber the 7. I stood beside the ball for about a minute, psyching myself to swing as hard as I could, yet still control the strike. I swung, connected, and the ball took off and landed on the green. I put the 7-iron back in the bag and promised myself I would never, ever do that again.

What to Work on During the Winter

If you live in a place where you can’t play during the winter, like I do, spend your time these next few months working on these things that will make a world of difference in your shot-making.

Grip: Whatever your grip is like, practice to make it be the same every time you pick up a club. Little changes in how you place your hands on the club make a big difference in how the clubhead meets the ball.

Ball position: For balls hit off the round, and hit off a tee, find the position that lets you hit your best shots. That position might be farther back in your stance than you think it should be.

Rhythm: The ratio of the backswing to the downswing is 3:1. Practice to make this your habit. This is the same as learning to be patient when you swing. What gets rhythm out of whack is rushing.

Impact: Your hands must get back to the ball before the clubhead does. See my video lesson for a drill that shows you what that means and shows you how to teach yourself to do it.

Putting: Yes, putting is shot-making. Practice at home to find a stroke that brings the clubhead into the ball square to the starting line and makes contact off the sweet spot of the putter’s face — every time. It will take daily practice and a lot of experimentation to figure this out. By the time you finish, you will likely have a very different stroke than you had before.

You can practice all of these things at home, except the second one, which you should be able to figure out after one trip to the driving range. Then practice at home by taking an address with the ball in that exact spot.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Going From the Range to the Course

The driving range is about hitting shots. The golf course is about scoring. Here’s how to make the first one easier to bring to the second one.

1. Pick a target for every shot. Not a direction, but a spot on the ground where you want the ball to land.

2. Go through your entire pre-shot routine before you hit the ball. Don’t swing at the ball until you have the feeling that this will be a very good shot.

3. For the next shot, pick a different target.

4. Change clubs after every three shots.

5. Take a break every now and then. Get out of your groove before you resume.

6. Hit some fades and draws. Hit some high shots, some low shots.

7. Develop a shot for when you just can’t go right. Same for when you can’t go left. Same for This one has to go straight, distance be hanged.

8. Make it fun. Make hitting golf balls something you enjoy, not something you work at.

Slow-Motion Golf Swings

Golf is a game of constant maintenance and correction. Once something works, we want to find a way to keep it working. We also know that eventually we will ease out of our groove, and we have to find the way back in.

One very good way to do both of those things is with slow-motion golf swings. The golf swing happens so fast, and out of our sight, that it’s not really possible to know exactly what’s going on. By slowing down, we can feel clearly what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

And that’s the whole point – to feel what is going on. We can’t see what we are doing, but we can feel it.

The feels we are looking for are the ones that bring the club back square and on plane, and return the clubhead to the ball with the desired impact geometry, and, hopefully, with a good amount of speed.

The best way to teach your unconscious mind* what those feels are is to practice swinging slowly.

The slow-motion swing allows you to verify the feels of what you are doing right.

If anything gets out of whack, you can sense it right away. That is feel of the wrong movment. Even though it might be your habit, it needs to change.

If you need to make a correction, its feel might be odd, but because the slow swing allows you to carefully monitor what is going on at all times, you’ll know it’s right.

Maybe you’re working of a slight change. Practice it in slow motion first, to make sure you’re doing it the way you want to, and you’re not still doing what you’re trying to get away from.

I’m not saying that there is now no reason to have a lesson, but there is a lot you can diagnose yourself so that when you get that lesson, it will be fine tuning, rather than going back to basics.

Pay your money to learn what you can’t figure out by yourself.

The first time I heard about this trick was on a Golf Channel Playing Lessons With the Pros episode featuring Brad Faxon. He said he, and other touring pros, did this all the time at the range, for the very purposes I described above.

Now that it’s rainy weather and you don’t get to play much, and it gets dark early so going to the range after work isn’t really an option, try working on slow swings at home. Get a lesson and spend the winter getting everything in your swing lined up right.
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*Most people use the term “subconscious mind”, but my psychologist friends say “unconscious mind” is correct.

Getting Good Around the Green

Lately I’ve been going to the range about three times a week. I hit my bucket of balls, but what I really want to do is practice around the green.

This is a practice green where you’re allowed to chip, and I do it. One wedge, a putter, and one ball. Chip the ball, putt it out — just like you do on the course. No do-overs with the chip, either. Not wanting to have to leave a ten-foot putt for an up and down gets me to focus.

How am I doing? I get up and down almost every time. I’m not trying to brag here, to tell you how great I am. I’m trying to tell you that if you practice something often enough, you learn and you get good at it.

All that putting I have been doing at home the past few months, and the chipping I do at the range, is paying off.

And there’s this — chipping is the easiest stroke in the game, the easiest one to get good at. There is no reason not to be good at it. Just put in the practice. Getting a lesson won’t hurt, either. Chances are your chipping stroke could stand a little fixing.

If you practice regularly starting now, by springtime you can own the green. All you have to do is put in the work.

Let me say one thing to inspire you about getting good.

An amateur will practice until he (or she) learns to do it right. A professional practices until he can’t do it wrong. No one is stopping you from practicing that much, and if you do, it will pay off like you won’t believe.

A Few Little Things

No essay today — just a few thoughts for you, in no particular order.

1. At the range, hit one ball at a time. Put your bucket in a place where you have to walk to it to get another ball. This will force you to set up all over again for each shot. This is how you practice your setup: grip, stance, posture, aim, ball position. Most of your bad shots are the result of a bad setup, not a bad swing.

2. Make your first read of a putt standing 50 feet from the hole. Only from that distance can you see the overall tilt of the green. Do you want to know why you missed that straight-in 3-footer? Because you couldn’t see from just a few feet behind the ball that the entire green was tilted to the left.

3. Have you figured out which club you want to hit from the fairway? Factored in lie, wind, green firmness? Good. Now take one more club and grip down an inch. Otherwise, you’re relying on a perfect strike.

4. Hit a few stock 9-irons. Your swing with a driver should take just as long, from start to finish, as those.

5. Unless you’re hitting a specialty shot, use the same ball position for all shots off the ground. Thus the ball will always be in the same place relative to the bottom of your swing.

6. You can’t generate clubhead speed by turning your hips at 100 mph. The calmer your center stays, the more speed will be built up at the outside — the clubhead.

7. Never hit over water unless you have no choice. Bad things happen when you challenge a water hazard needlessly.

8. Make it your rule from close in to get the ball on the green in one shot. Even if you leave the ball 30 feet from the hole, you’ve done your job.

9. The conventional advice when playing a par 3 from an elevated tee is to take less club. Actually, you should take more club and punch the ball off the tee. This is a more secure swing, and keeps the ball down to get the ball on the green quicker.

10. At the range, practice as long as your mind is sharp. If you feel your mind is losing focus, that’s enough for the day. Give the rest of your bucket to another golfer and go home. You don’t learn anything when your mind is tired.

What I Learned at the Range – 12

I’ve been spending my time around the practice green lately. Here are a few things I reminded myself of.

1. Slow down your swing. This advice is generally stated in the context of the golf swing, but it applies with equal force to short shots. Poor contact on chip shots is too often caused (in my game) by making the stroke too brisk. Slow it down. Try practicing a few chips with a stroke that takes as long to make as your full swing does.

2. Chipping is pretty complicated. To get good at it, give yourself as many different shots as possible and figure out which club and stroke gives you the best results. (See #5, below.)

At the most basic, you can vary the distance from ball to green and green to hole. Mix and match long and short distances for both. You might be forced to hit over an obstacle. You can chip into a downhill slope or an uphill slope. You can have a cushy lie, a tight lie, or be in the rough. You can chip to a green that is elevated (common) or a green that is lower than the level of your ball.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

3. From outside 10 feet, all that matters is speed. You can read the line well enough to get the ball close, but more important is to get the ball cozying up to the hole speedwise. That’s how those 20-footers fall in.

4. When you address a putt, let the sole of the putter rest very lightly on the top of the grass. That way you can start the club back smoothly. If the putter rests with its weight on the ground, you have to subtly lift up the putter, then swing it back. That is enough to disrupt your stroke.

5. I now use one club for chipping – my 48-degree pitching wedge. Elsewhere on this blog I talk about using one swing with six clubs for calibrated distances. That works well, but using one club makes you learn how to hit shots, improving your overall skill as a golfer.

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.

The 120 Golf Swings Drill

To get better at swinging the golf club, you have to swing it a lot, the right way. This drill, more than any other, meets that need. It comes from my first book, Better Recreational Golf.

You’re going to swing the club 120 times, in five sets of twenty swings, each set different from the last.

Start out with twenty normal golf swings. You’ll be hitting a ball only every tenth swing. Step away and set up before every swing. It might take you three minutes to complete a set. The entire exercise takes about twenty minutes.

For swings 21-40, swing with your left arm only. Swings 41-60 are your normal swings again. Swings 61-80 are right arm-only swings. Swings 81-100 are two-handed, but with your feet together, heels touching. The final set, swings 101-120, is back to your normal swing.

The one-armed swings teach you what that arm does in the swing. It will also help you strengthen your left arm when you do that set. The point of the feet-together swings is to teach you how to move your upper and lower body together.

It is very important that in any set you swing the same way every time. Do not go trying different things with each swing. Swing the same way. This exercise teaches you how to repeat one swing, not to have 120 swings to choose from.

Use the same club for the entire drill. If there’s a club you’re having a problem with, this drill is great for getting that straightened out.

Do this exercise twice a week. Believe me, it will smooth out your swing and make it repeatable without your having to think about it when you play.