Your Natural Grip

In my multi-media piece, A Basic Golf Swing, I talked about assuming a grip that is based on the way your arms are built. Taking your grip that way, and not in a generic manner like you see in books, contributes greatly to keeping the clubface square throughout the swing.

This is something I figured out by studying functional anatomy, but later I did find references to this advice in three golf instruction books I have, none of which you may never have heard of.

Here are the ways that each one describes what to do.

The whole purpose of the grip is to position your hands upon the club in such a way that they will return to their original natural position at contact. Throughout any swing, no matter how you grip the club, the hands tend to return to their normal position at the hit. Normal position of the hands is how they fall naturally when you stand up straight and let your arms dangle to the sides of your body.
Mickey Wright, Play Golf the Wright Way.

Your hands should be placed on the club the way they hang naturally at your side. Try this out for yourself. Bend slightly from your hips and let your arms hang in front of you. Note where the back of your left hand and the palm of your right hand face in relation to an imaginary target. That’s the natural position in which your arms and hands hang. They are going to want to return there at the bottom of your swing, just when you are striking the ball. So if you make any radical departure* from that position when you put your hands on the club, you’re asking for trouble.
Al Geiberger, Tempo.
* Better: “…make any departure…”

The trick is to find out at what angle your left hand is in while it is relaxed, for this is the angle your hand should be in as it holds the club. Leaving the left hand where it is as it hangs down, place a golf club in your left hand. As long as you do no conscious turning of the left hand* as you hold the club handle, you have the correct hold with your left hand. The same applies to the right hand— there should not be any turning*.
Phil Galvano, Secrets of the Perfect Golf Swing.
* Better: “…turning of the left forearm…” and “…not be any turning of the forearm.”

Do this. It will change everything for the better.

One more note. The first two excerpts say your hands and arms return to their normal position at the hit. They return much earlier than that, literally moments after you take the club away.

A Vital Short Game Fundamental

There is one thing you can do in your short game that will make every shot easier and better. That thing is to hold the club lightly. Maybe hold it softly.

What do I mean by “softly?” Hold the club so the handle barely compresses the soft pads of your palm and fingers, but not so softly that the club flops around when you swing it.

Stop reading, get a club and try that before you go on.

In addition, relax your arms and shoulders completely.

If you get all this right, I promise you will make good contact with the ball much more often than you do. You will be in a position where you can learn to control your short shots to an amazing degree.

You can get away with less-than-perfect contact from the tee and the fairway. But the short game requires, (demands?), precision when the club meets the ball.

When you set up for a short shot, the perfect address position of the clubhead is also its perfect impact position. The problem to be solved is how to return the clubhead to that exact spot.

If you grip the club tightly, the tension in your hands puts tension in your arms and shoulders, which shortens your arms. When you swing back, you subconsciously know something is wrong and the forward stroke is a desperate attempt to get the clubhead back where it belongs. Every so often, you get it right.

But if your hands, arms, and shoulders are completely relaxed, the length of the arm-club lever does not change.

All you need to do from there is swing back and through gracefully with an unhurried rhythm and tempo, and ideal contact is yours. It’s that simple.

Notes on Nelly Korda

Everybody knows that Nelly Korda’s swing makes her one of the best ball-stikers in the world. PGA Tour pros who played with her last year couldn’t figure out why she doesn’t win every week.

Although she is the midst of doing just that lately.

Unfortunately, I can’t make the image bigger. Magnify your browser window to get a good look.

I’m showing you this video for only one reason–to show you how simple the golf swing really is. Swing the club back, turn your hips, and swing through the ball.

From there, watch it as often as you want and draw your own conclusions.

Timing the Golf Swing

In the golf swing, the hips turn and the arms swing. In the backswing, the arms swing back first and the hips follow. In the forward swing, the hips turn first and the arms follow.

When the rhythm and tempo of the swing are correct, each of those movements happen at the right moment and have the chance they need to develop fully.

When that is the case, we say the swing is correctly timed.

Rhythm is the relative duration of the backswing to the forward swing. Tempo is the overall speed of the swing, measured by how long it takes in total.

Rhythm, as explained in part 1 here, is the same for all golfers. Tempo is an individual characteristic, which depends on athleticism, flexibility, and strength.

Good timing is a consequence of proper rhythm and tempo.

What does is mean for the arm and hip movements to develop fully?

For the arms, it means for them to reach a consistent finished backswing position. For the hips, it means turn to the extent that they are slightly open at impact.

The evidence of good timing is clean contact on the center of the clubface. Granted, there is more to that than good timing, but you will get more out of good timing and so-so technique than good technique and a mis-timed swing.

To get good timing, you must give up the idea of hitting the ball as far as you can with the club in your hand, and instead hitting it as accurately as you can with that club.

The key to all this is in large part not rushing the arms at the start of the forward swing. Let the hip turn carry them until the momentum of the turning action releases their swinging action.

And swing through the ball. Don’t try to clobber it at the last moment.

Six Fundamentals Revisted

In 2014, I published a multi-media essay titled Six Fundamentals of the Recreational Golf Swing. Ten years later (where does the time go?) I still refer to them to make sure they are still present.

But you know that the golf swing doesn’t boil itself down to just six things. There’s a lot more to it than that. The problem is, you can take on only so much at one time. Even six is a lot.

So you, or I, don’t have to hold all those things in our head, lest we forget what it is we’re forgetting, I made a pie chart showing what they are, in a rough sequence, going clockwise. I used to take a print of it to the range to remind myself of what I was there to work on.

Here it is:

I’m now working of a new list of six things. There is some overlap with the old list, to be sure. The new list contains things I know are correct but I forget to do because of old habits.

This is my new list:

Forearms together – You want to have a feeling of connection between your forearms at address, and maintain that feeling throughout the swing. Ben Hogan and Mickey Wright said this was one of the most important aspects of their swing technique, and they are right.

Clubface square at the top – This is accomplished by keeping rotation completely out of your forearms. You have to train your hands to feel this, because that is where the rotation, if any, will be felt, especially in your right hand (left hand for port-siders). Remember, your hands are where you sense rotation. They are not what prevent rotation.

Complete the backswing – Don’t make your backswing too short. Let it come to a comfortable, relaxed ending. Feel like the club comes to a natural stop that suggests a rhythmic response to initiate the forward swing.

The hip turn starts the forward swing – And that response is for the hips to turn. The arms do not swing forward until the momentum of the hip turn impels them to.

Do not rush the start of the forward swing – Critical, critical, critical. Do not whip your hips around, do not throw your arms into the ball. Let them flow sequentially in a graceful way.

Use a tempo that allows everything to happen on time – If you move faster than you can manage, your technique will get into playing catch-up, and movements will always be late. If your swing is too slow… Ever seen a swing that was too slow? Neither have I. Never mind that one.

Now so you can make you own chart to remember the swing bits you are working on, download this Excel file. Then:

1. Overwrite the descriptions you see with a brief description of each bit you are working on. The text is in text boxes. Try not to move them around. Express your bit in ten words or less. Five words would be better.

2. When you’re looking at the chart, the lines making the circle and wedges might not show up very clearly, if at all. They’re there. Click once inside the pie chart (but not in a text box), and the lines should appear.

3. Make a screenshot of the frame and chart. This is easy to do on my Mac.* Press Command+Shift+4. A little cross and circle will appear on the screen. Move it with your mouse to the upper left of the frame. Now left click and drag the thinger to the lower right of the frame and release the mouse. A screen shot will be taken and put on your desktop. If you have a PC, taking a screenshot is more complicated, so look up how to do it on the web.

4. Now you can print the screenshot and take it with you to the range. Or when you make practice swings in your house.

In conclusion: Just as you cannot boil the golf swing down into six principles, neither can you boil it down to twelve. I do, however, recommend you consider installing my new list into your swing if you haven’t already done so.

And yet, they might not be the principles you need to turn your swing into what you want it to be. They are what make MY swing work. You have to discover your own.

*I know what you’re thinking. I have Microsoft Office for Mac installed on my iMac.

No Double Bogeys

The round that I think is my all-time favorite is one where I shot an 85, but I didn’t have any double bogeys–five pars and thirteen bogeys.

85 is higher than my usual scores, but I have never played so consistently. It was a very satisfying day.

Scoring is about not making high scores on holes. That’s the easiest way bring your total score down.

So today I want to mention how to avoid double bogeys, and maybe in the same way avoid triples. And beyond.

When you’re on the tee, and you put the ball in the fairway, your way is clear (though I have to admit that I have driven dead center to an open green and still taken a DB. More than once).

If you miss the fairway, however, there is a decision to make–if you can’t easily reach the green, how far can you reasonably advance the ball with your next shot, and put the ball in a place where with the shot after that you can easily get it on the green?

You gotta think two shots ahead, not about making a heroic par but instead, an easy bogey. Remember, you’re a recreational golfer. A bogey is a good score.

You gotta combine your skills with what the course is offering you from where you are, and play for the best position for the shot after that. The position is everything.

That is how you cut down on the double bogeys off a bad tee shot.

If you flub the shot into the green, then your task is to get down in no more than three shots. Put the first of those three shots on the green. No fancy shots. Bunt if you have to. Just no chipping twice in a row. Forget the pin. Don’t try to get too cute. Just get the ball on the green so your putting can take over.

Sure, you have to have some skills. You have to be able to execute somewhere long the line. But thinking ahead, playing within your abilities, is how you give yourself the opportunity to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as you can.

No DBs.

Try that this summer and see what you get.

Masters Chairman Whines

In 2014, I wrote this post about the Augusta National golf course. Please read it before you go on.

Now, Masters Chariman Fred Ridley (you know, the one who did not disqualify Tiger Woods for signing an improper scorecard in 2013) says the ball has to be rolled back.

Ya know why?

Because his course is becoming obsolete, just like I said it would. So he thinks all of golf should play a rolled back ball so his course can still be relevant.

Wow. Typical Masters arrogance. (We don’t have fans, we have patrons. Gary McCord got bounced from the broadcasting crew because he said the fast greens had been bikini-waxed. Should he have said they were “slicker than snot”, instead?)

Fred, let me solve the problem for you. This is your tournament, you can do whatever you want (Tiger Woods, q.v.). Announce the bidding for the exclusive right for one golf ball manufacturer to make the Official Masters Golf Ball, to be used by all competitors during the Masters tournament.

The mfrs. will fall all over themselves trying to get the contract. The Masters organization (I don’t know what else to call it) will make tons of money on the deal, and you can keep progress at bay in your little corner of Georgia.

You’re welcome.

BTW, I usually have a Masters preview post most years. You just read this year’s version.

My So-So Distances

Ten years ago, when I was playing my best, I had a 9 handicap. Now, I’m 74 years old, with health problems, and the game I played back then is a distant memory. So I have adapted. But that’s another post.

What I want to tell you today that you don’t have to hit the ball out of sight to score well. For recreational golfers, there are other things that are much more important than distance. Let me get right to the point. These are the distances that got me into single-digit golf:

Driver (total) – 235
(remaining distances are carry only)
2-hybrid – 200
3-hybrid – 187
4-hybrid – 174
5-iron – 158
6-iron – 150
7-iron – 142
8-iron – 132
9-iron – 122
PW – 113

What got me into single digits with these rather unimpressive distances was:
hitting the ball very straight,
being a very good chipper,
being a very good aproach putter,
knowing how to hit off any unusual lie you can name,
playing shots I could hit, not ones somebody way better than me would hit,
hitting the ball to high-value targets,
thinking only of the next shot; leaving behind everything else, good or bad.

Distance is nice to have, but each of us can hit the ball only so far. The trick is to develop a game around the distance you have, not the distance you want.

Two Ways to Putt

There are two ways to putt.

1. Read the green to get the line and the distance, step into a stance you have practiced, and hit the ball with a stroke you have practiced.

2. Get up to the ball and think to yourself, “Hit the ball into the hole.” Then do it.

One or the other.

How Good Is Good?

All this practicing I’m doing with my wedges has me thinkng about practice itself. It got me to remember something I read about practice a while ago, which I will adapt for this post.

You can practice something until you get it right.

Then you can keep practicing until you cannot get it wrong.

Little Differences That Make a Big Difference in How Well You Play