Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Generating Greater Swing Power

In Articles on August 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Hitting the golf ball a long ways was actually the first thing I learned. I didn’t even know how to do the upper body portion of a swing, I just started working on how to do the lower body portion of the backswing, then forcing my body weight into my hip. All based on slow motion video of golfers, especially Tiger Woods. (Which reminds me of an important rule I live by: no matter what you want to do, spend most of your time studying how it’s really done by those who are successful at it, and only a little bit of time learning what instructors and coaches claim you should do.) I immediately found that when you generate the force for your downswing with your hip, your upper body will naturally come swinging around, and after much more study, I had a functional, and somewhat powerful, golf swing

Hopefully my experience is something I can relate here, and help you start generating more force with your swing if that’s something you’re having a problem with. Hitting with more power is not very complicated, and I’ll give you the short version right here to start: you need to begin your downswing by driving your upper body into your hip or hips. Do that, and you’ll soon be whipping that clubhead around with a mighty swoosh, and you’ll come to understand why they talk about “easy power” so much when discussing professional golf swings.

How Athletes Generate So Much Power

I first got interested in how people generate a lot of force “with their bodies” when I started studying Jeet Kune Do. That’s Bruce Lee’s own martial art he made up. Lee famously had a strike called the “two inch punch,” a very literal name for what it was, where he’d set his fist two inches from his target and then punch it surprisingly hard even though he basically had no space to stretch his arm out. Those with experience on the subject said this was no mere push where he’d keep extending the punch through the pad or the person wearing the pad after he hit them, but an actual snappingly forceful punch. And the way he did it was by using his lower body.

It turns out, that’s pretty much the way every athlete generates force. They use their glutes (the biggest muscle on the body) to generate force and then efficiently transfer that energy to whatever it is they’re acting on with their arms and hands. It’s why a professional outfielder can gun a ball back to home plate at 85 mph, but most normal guys strain themselves to throw much above 30 mph. Or why I once saw a 12 year old girl throw a 60 yard Hail Mary in a Pass, Punt and Kick competition. Or why professional boxers can punch people with 8 to 10 times the force of somebody who doesn’t punch people for a living. Us non-trained individuals tend to do motions involving our arms using our arm muscles. Makes logical sense, but it turns out, learning how to to do those motions by moving our glutes and then snapping that energy upward using the mechanics of our bodies yields way, way, waaaay better results.

How Golfers Apply This To Their Swings

To further belabor the explanation, I present a picture of this: a trebuchet style catapult.

It’s a neat physical metaphor for what your golf swing is going to look like once you start swinging with your hip. If you’ve never seen one in action, I recommend checking out a Youtube video or two, but basically they work by allowing that big weight to start falling toward the ground, which then moves around that big lever arm, which is attached to a flexible sling cradling the object you wish to launch several hundred yards through the air. Simply put, big force pulls around a lever, which whips around the flexible end. That’s what you want your golf swing to feel like!

Alright, hopefully that all gives you more of an intuitive understanding for what you’re about to do. When I started studying how golfers swing on a drive, I noticed that to start the downswing, they don’t torque their hips around, or start to swing their arms, or whatever else nonsense I’ve seen and heard. They thrust their weight down into their hip (or hips depending on the golfer), and that initiates the downswing movement. To see this it’s helpful to watch video of professional golfers from the hard-to-find butt-centric view. Here’s video of Tiger Woods, watch his lead leg and see how to start the downswing he’s pushing his weight into it, his knee just slightly bending from the force (important of course not to let that knee crumple when you compress your hip). But as he does so, his glute pushes back, and the imbalance in his hips caused by the standard knee bend on the backswing, sends his body torquing around.

Watch till you get a feel for it. There are videos around for many of today’s pros so you can always find your favorite or model golfer and see exactly how he does it. The important point is, it’s a straight downward force which compresses your solid, largely unyielding hip joint, which creates so much force. It’s not a turning motion. You can’t generate very much force by trying to actively rotate your hips. But you can thrust down into your hips and let that energy be turned into a torquing motion.

Power Generating Drill

Okay, even if none of that made sense or you’re just largely untrusting of strangers on the internet, I would suggest it will all come round to you by doing this drill. First a disclaimer: if you have a bad hip, or frail joints, or for any other reason your body may be too infirm to go thrusting your weight into your legs and then come spinning around, you probably should be very cautious and not do this. Otherwise, hopefully you will not hurt yourself.

So the drill is to learn how generate force the same way I learned. Take an easy to swing club, like a wedge or even a shaft with no head attached, that’ll be what you use for this exercise. Get into position like you’re about to hit a mid-iron shot, very in the middle in terms of stance and all that. Do a normal backswing, making sure to send your weight toward your back foot (60%, 65%, 70% whatever amount you normally do), and then at the top of the backswing stop. Now comes the important part. Without worrying about making a correct swing, or about form, or about not looking like an idiot, or even accidentally falling down, thrust your upper body weight downward into your lead hip as best as you can figure out how to. Remember that your lead leg is not supposed to give, but should remain as strong as reasonably possible.

IF it works, you may find your upper body whipping around after. That’s a good sign. It probably will take awhile for the movement to make sense for you though, so after your first try, no matter what happened, if you’re still standing, try again. Backswing up to the top of your swing, make sure your form is good, thrust your upper body weight into that lead hip and let it push back.

This is literally what I did to learn how to initiate a downswing. I had no idea what I was doing, felt like I was going to fall down if I tried to do it, and yet when I did it, the club shaft came zooming around with no other thought or effort. I will note, it’s of course best to do this someplace with plenty of space around you, and nothing in the way that will get damaged should the club come out of your hands. Which is possible.

Again, do this drill as I describe, and don’t try to do whatever else it is you normally do for your downswing. If to start your downswing you begin to turn your hips, or start coming down with your hands, or tense up your back, or whatever else, don’t do that. Just get to the top of the backswing and thrust your weight down into your lead hip and don’t let your leg buckle under the pressure. If you can successfully get this working (and it may take some weeks of practice), you will be swinging like a pro does and I’m quite confident you can start generating more force for your swings.

Further Pointers

As you get used to downswinging with your hip, you’ll come to understand why pros talk about not tensing up the body, having relaxed muscles, easy speed. Basically all the tensing and effort goes into pushing down on your hip and your glute counteracting it. From there, the more your upper body and arms can act like a flexible whip, like the sling of the trebuchet, the faster you will be going. And you’ll feel it, your best swings in terms of speed will feel very relaxed, also slightly violent in terms of the spinning, but relaxed. Load up at the beginning of the downswing and let your body unwind.

There are of course more techniques to use from there. Proper wrist snapping allows you to unload all that kinetic energy into the ball at the most optimal time, and straightening out your lead leg right as your about to strike the ball can add a lot of power too. Those are things you can practice getting the timing down on. Even more advanced stuff can be used for driver swings, like letting your upper body pivot downward from your lead shoulder and letting your spine contort your torso into a backward C and all that. But for now, try out that drill and see if it helps you. If not, sorry, I tried. And if so, great! It’s a non-intuitive technique that you have to really feel out at first, but it’s the best way to swing for distance.


Mirror Work

In Articles on July 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm

One of the great difficulties in learning how to improve your swing is that out on the range you can’t see yourself do it. And since you can’t see yourself do it, you’re assuming you’re doing something correctly or perhaps incorrectly by feel alone. Meaning you miss a lot.
The obvious answer is to use a reflective surface so you can watch yourself, and I’m going to tell you today that if you’re interested in really improving your golf swing you need to make this a significant part of your training. I’ve worked a lot in front of a mirror and it helped me create a good swing quickly when I started and it helps me continue to build that swing correctly as I continue to learn.  Sometimes I get lazy or pile laundry in front of my full length mirror and skip mirror work, and I start to get sloppy.

My recommendation is do 20 to 100 slow motion swings in front of a mirror or reflective window on every training day. Focus on what you’re worried is off in your swing or on making sure you’ve got your fundamentals sound for whatever club or clubs you’re working on that day.

Personally I like to look at particular joints and make sure they are all behaving the way I want them to in order to do this. I’ll watch my lead knee to make sure it’s bending without my hips sliding, my back knee to make sure it’s not moving at all, my lower torso movement, and of course my elbows, wrists, and especially the action of the club (which you can consider an extension of your own body).

I don’t have a lot of points of concern for my swing (certainly you’ll have your own personal ones for your specific swing), but to share: I make sure my lead knee bends out simultaneously with my takeway and is largely done moving by the time my club shaft becomes parallel to the ground, my back knee moves as little as possible, my hips do not sway, my arms and torso form a single simultaneous takeaway, my club shaft is parallel to the target line when I take it back, that my lead arm stays stiff, and that my back arm guides my hands back along the same path I’ve specifically practiced thousands of time to form that “triangle” you hear golfers talk about (hopefully you have heard about it because that’s not much of an explanation).

Anyway, my point is those are the things I focus on because they’re important to my mind in having a good swing, and when I do them correctly I do take a good swing. By doing slow motion swings over and over again in front of a mirror you can watch each thing on your personal swing list and make sure you’re doing them the way you want to, which in turn burns the correct motion into your “muscle memory.”
Also when over time people tend to develop bad habits, which are really mismovements your brain is making without you realizing it. Mirror exercises keep you on track or put you back on track if you develop some bad habits.
So remember, try and spend some time on your training days doing slow motion mirror work and focusing on your personal swing fundamentals. I talked about mostly backswing in this post, but of course follow through and make sure you’re performing your downswing correctly as well. If you don’t have a full length mirror they do sell cheap ones at Target or similar retailers that can be a bit thin but still work fine, or also if you go outside and find a highly reflective window that works to practice in front of as well.

I realize this is a pretty simple concept and most every reader probably doesn’t need it explained in great detail, but the thing I want to emphasize is DO IT. Really make sure you spend the time doing it throughout your training regimen and don’t stop as you get more advanced because you think you don’t need it anymore. It’s a crucial element in having your practice make you better.

The Proper Mindset for Constructing or Reconstructing Your Swing

In Articles on July 14, 2012 at 11:38 am

I’ve been enjoying reading some other people’s accounts of trying to become great at golf, such as The Dan Plan (a serious effort) and the novel Paper Tiger (a less serious effort). It seems a lot of the amateur golf world is interested in the idea of going from normal golfer to PGA Tour Pro. I admit I would be quite happy becoming a big fish on the Mid-Ams, but I wouldn’t mind winning a Masters either.

Anyway, with all the concern over what it takes to become a really good golfer, I thought I’d share what I think is the most important tip to starting the journey: Understand what a golf swing really is. The only thing I knew about swinging a golf club when I started was that it was a specific, very non-intuitive action. That knowledge was invaluable.

When you step up to hit a golf ball, you’re not stepping up to hit a golf ball. I think most people go wrong by trying to do it intuitively, and just hitting the golf ball with their best approximation of proper form. That’s wrong. When you step up to the ball think of yourself performing a golf swing, the ball is merely in the path and will ultimately be your club’s concern.

A golf swing is a specific physical act, like a dance move in ballet. Actually that’s my favorite way to think about it, a golf swing is like a precise ballet move. When a dancer performs a move they don’t just do it their own way, they use total body control to perform it in the very, very, very specific manner their instructors have taught them. It’s not about vaguely understanding your supposed to spin around three times and jump in the air, instead every limb has a specific place and way to move and the net result is you will spin round three times and jump in the air by performing those movements.

So too with a golf swing. The golf swing is a specific, precise act. Perform it like a ballet dancer dances, like a surgeon making absolutely precise cuts, like a guitar player creating the chord he wants with one hand and strumming just the way he wants with the other, no room for anything but precisely the correct movement.

That’s the correct way to begin. I personally swing train without a golf ball the majority of the time, I think most people would benefit from that. The golf ball gets in the way of learning how to swing because you’re focused on what the golf ball does. You can’t become a great golfer by focusing on anything but yourself, the feedback of a golf ball is helpful, but absolutely unnecessary for anything but a small percentage of your practice. Don’t forget the golf ball entirely of course, and some days as you progress you’ll want to work on nothing but ball striking, but most of the time focus solely on your swing, and always remember that you affect only the club, the way you control the club is what sends the golf ball off the way you want. Don’t put your focus into a golf ball with you never even physically touch.

What Seperates Professional Golfers From the Rest of Us?

In Articles on July 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I read this question asked on a few golf forums and thought about it some for myself. The first thing I can say is, most people don’t really even have a guess. Which is understandable, golf can seem like an impossibly difficult game if your goal is simply finishing at par once in awhile, professionals are out there shooting four, five, six under on toughened-up courses with all the pressure of having the galleries and cameras focused on them while they do it.

So I can understand why most just say, “these guys are from another planet,” and leave it at that. But I think after studying the topic a little that there are some understandable differences that can be observed.

* * * * *

To start with there a few of what I call ‘binary factors’ that separate the potentially successful pro from those who have no chance. I call them binary factors because as a golfer you either have them, or can overcome them, or you can’t. If you can, you move onto the next challenge of becoming a pro golfer, if not, well then you’re done.

The first and most obvious is length. Professional golfers, like the majority of professional athletes, know how to generate force with their bodies, allowing them to hit their shots 30-40% longer than otherwise strong guys who don’t know how. The advantage of that length is pretty crucial and here’s why: If John Q. Golfer and David T. Professional-Golfer both tee off on a 420 yard par 4, John hits the ball 220 yards and David hits it 300. From there John still has 200 yards to go and is going to need his fairway wood for his next shot. David has 120 yards to go, which is not only considerably shorter, but he also hits longer anyway, so he’s pulling out a wedge. Which is easier to hit an accurate shot with, a 3-wood or a pitching wedge?

Now David has a significantly better chance of landing his ball near the pin than John. Maybe in this one example he does or he doesn’t, but over the course of four rounds of 18 holes, there’s simply no way John and his average amateur length can keep up. You either can hit it far enough or you can’t.

* * * * *

The second binary challenge is having the mental game. It takes a lot of practice to get a great swing, yet it means nothing if you can’t use it correctly because your mind keeps getting in the way. Golf is a game that is heavy in psychology, and you either have a mind for playing at a high level or you don’t. Do you get rattled and let it ruin your game? Do you work on out-thinking the course and not letting poor decisions turn fine swings into bad golf shots due to placement or strategy?

People get kind of shocked by, say, Tiger Wood’s angry reactions on the course sometimes, yet after he cusses and throws his clubs he goes on playing high level golf. Can you experience your emotions without it ruining your chances to win?

This one seems a little more subtle than being able to hit a golf ball a long ways, and it definitely has more shades of gray, but ultimately it means just as much given how competitive pro golf is and how few slots there are available for players to take. If you’re poor at managing your game mentally, there’s just going to be too many guys in front of you who can manage for you to last.

I don’t think anyone is born with great mental game, but you at least have to know how to acquire it, another skill to go alongside all the more tangible ones.

* * * * *

The final binary factor is personality. Well, intelligence and personality. Are you the kind of person who can overcome the challenges that’ll stand in the way of your pro golf career? Do you understand the practice that will be involved and do you practice in such a way that you continuously get significantly better?

I think for most people being a professional golfer would simply require a mind set and worldview that would be alien to them. Do you really feel the drive to succeed at this thing, which though society might see as impressive, is really a game with a club and a ball? Is it something you really want and really want to work to get, or is it something that is just nice to dream about? Are you the kind of person who wants to be near solely responsible for your vocation, or would you rather have a normal job and a stable life? Are you somebody who could commit to a long term goal, or are you a quitter?

And if you do have the personality, are you smart enough? It doesn’t require a high IQ, but there is some cleverness required to see your obstacles clearly and work through them. Or do you trudge through things, not seeing what problems may be cropping up for you, both in golf and in life?

* * * * *

Those are the first three things I see that are different. Each one winnows down the field in its own way. These alone take out most people, because you either have it or you don’t make it. Do you have the length? No, you’re out. Do you have the mental control? No, you’re out. Do you have the personality and ability to overcome problems instead of dropping out over them? No, you’re out. Of course, I believe any of these are acquirable. Length, despite being the thing most male golfers complain about being unable to get better at, is the easiest. Any human being with an able body can learn how to generate power for their golf swing with their legs and core. The other two are possible as well, and certainly as we mature and learn the more capable we can become.

* * * * *

Then there are of course some other things. A few researchers have looked at the differences and one big thing they find is the difference in making mistakes, specifically pros make way fewer of them. I think this is the real difference heavy amounts of practice can make. Once you’ve learned how to do it correctly, you must imprint that physical knowledge into your nervous system over and over again until your brain (a notoriously distractible thing) can do it with extreme reliability. Making a bad swing one out of ten times means you might ruin seven or eight holes per round. Doing it once every hundred swings means you’ll probably just have the chance it will mess up one. It’s the sort of thing that makes a big difference when you’re playing so much golf to determine a tournament winner.

Another difference is on the greens. Making a putt can be rather laborious process, because it requires a huge amount of forethought and precision aiming. You have to be able to read a green. You have to be skilled at striking a putt with correct force. You have to be skilled at just hitting the thing in the line you want! This sort of thing separates those with skill and practice from those who don’t. Research shows pros tend to place the ball nearly the same distance from the hole as amateurs for their first putt. But they average fewer than two putts per hole, while amateurs average well over two. As I recall, a difference of nearly a shots worth per hole for the rank amateurs, and nearly half a shot for the better amateurs. Trusting my memory, that’s almost nine strokes per round difference between pros and good amateurs. Think that might be a big deal?

Finally, there’s one difference that professionals point out all the time as being the biggest difference they see: fundamentals. Pros have to know how to take a shot as correctly as possible. That means actually lining up perpendicular to the target line and not at a 20-degree angle off it leading straight into the trees. That means knowing how to read your next play and thinking through your distance and what will happen to your shot accurately. It means having a pre-shot routine that allows you to not make a swing mistake. It’s professional polish, a commitment to doing what you’re doing correctly, and from my experience it makes a huge difference in most professions, not just golf.

Well, as I’ve heard some point out, having a caddy doing all your spotting, a club-maker endorsement deal with clubs painstakingly matched to your body and swing type, a comped rental Lexus waiting for you when you get off the plane, and money to hire a video crew to follow you around during practice so your golf teacher can analyze your swing on an 85″ 1080p monitor all shouldn’t hurt either. So if you’re interested in becoming a pro golfer and can arranging those things before you make the PGA Tour for yourself, then by all means do so.

Well that’s all I know on the issue.