An Epiphany – That’s what I call my realization from the other day about full-circle (north – south – east – west ) balancing ……… here’s how the story goes.
So I watched a quick snippet of a recorded Champions Golf Lessons with Sir Nick Faldo yesterday.
Nick was talking about the fundamentals of getting a good swing down and said something that conflicted with a preconceived notion of mine. He said you should address the ball and determine where to hold the club by bending your knees and leaning forward (those two I get) until the weight of your body rests on the balls of your feet almost. As if you’re almost tipping over. Hmmph! I didn’t fully agree with that last statement so I tried it out on the carpet while continuing to watch.
I kept leaning forward and leaning forward until I really felt my weight securely held in place by the balls of my feet and my arms were hanging down like sausages and found that I was bent over significantly more than I usually set up. It felt odd. But I tried to swing my arms to the right and left and to my surprise they swung like butter. I lifted my head and then straightened my back a bit so my back side felt more solid like it was sticking out or sitting on the edge of a stool (I read the stool thing in Hogan’s book I believe and never sensed I had it before until then) – and my sense of being able to swing thru on a plane that stayed TRUE increased. “Hmmmm,” – I thought! Have I been setting-up un-balanced laterally all this time? Looking at where my ball would be placed in this new position (since I was now quite further down on the grip – almost to the end of the rubber and my club head was now a couple inches closer) I was practically looking over it (with my pitching wedge – my favorite go to testing club). I always thought you needed to settle your weight either on your heels or centered on your arches.
Then last night it came to me – like a lightning bolt it struck so TRUE. Thinking about it purely from a geometry and mechanical perspective, it made sense. . Yes I need to practice staying balanced when it comes to moving laterally from left side-to- right -side during my backswing and follow through…… BUT staying balanced north-to-south is just as important – and that the inability to do so is most likely the culprit for many a duffed ball of chucked piece of turf.
Think about it. First, imagine that the club head is like a tether ball hanging from a lamp post with a bar sticking straight out. Or think of one of those construction cranes with a wrecking ball (the driver’s cage is your back side and the tip of the crane’s arm is your metaphorical head – only in this case the ball hangs not from the end but from a fulcrum a little further down the neck of the crane – where a cranes shoulders might be if all its weight wasn’t in the chassis. – maybe that’s why chubby golfers play so well – they’re better at staying balanced with the increased chassis – hah!). For a tether ball in these scenarios to swing on a line that stays on-plane the pole or crane holding the tether line (your arms) and the ball can sway side-to-side or north-south or any which way. Any movement of the base means the ball will change planes and wobble if you get my drift – pun intended.
So I get why I need to brace myself on my right and left heels at each down-beat of my swing. However, I thought I was hanging my arms correctly and apparently I’m not. Bringing back the image of a ball on a tethered rope – pretend you’re playing the game hangman. So the ball is hanging from an upside hook – right? The key to understanding the image is that the first right angle of the upside L represents how you are bent from the waist. The toe of the upside-down L represents your head. These are the 2 weights that keep you balanced and grounded while your arms swing back and forth. They stop you from falling on your face on plopping on your seat. Your arms hang from your shoulders which together represent the spot on the bar from which your club hangs. Obviously – in the human example you are not bent completely perpendicular – unless maybe if your Michelle Wei trying to stay stable during a putt – right?
So the conclusion would go – If this swinging of the arms does not stay within the boundaries of your butt and your head as you swing – you will end up with some terrible off-plane action.
So – how did Nick Faldo explain it? He referred to the ready stance when addressing the ball by saying this, “Stand so that your knees are bent (similar to like you’re in a ready stance for playing basketball – legs at the ready is what everyone says), and lean forward until you feel like you will tip over and most of the weight is on the balls of your feet.”
When I do that – I find a better way of explaining the full sensation (especially if I really start to be active and bouncy while setting up) is that it’s more like getting ready to receive a serve in tennis. I’m firmly planted but can spring in an instant in any direction. My glutes are firm. I can feel myself pushing against the court. Maybe not so squat down but definitely leaning forward AND balanced north, east, west and south.
Also, when I do that I find that I activate my glutes and they play a much bigger role in maintaining my balance. In fact, I really start to feel the tension on the inside of my legs on the backside from hip to heel and when I swing back I actually fall into that position that makes you feel like you’re sitting before getting ready to uncoil. In short – I think I’ve been standing way too vertical all this time!!! I need to lean forward more and engage my knees. Eegads!
But this fix – although not significant – feels like it could have huge results. I can’t say why but it could be one of those 80/20 rules.
Then I thought about Michelle Wei and Adam Scott. Adam Scott is well known for his awesome stance and posture and you can see – he really sticks his posterior out and uses it as a seat of balance. And Michelle Wei optimizes the hangman’s pose when she putts. She literally keeps her shoulders between her front and back grounded weights – her head and her derriere – to make the club head move evenly, I suppose.
I’ve concluded that I should do much better if I set-up to the ball with my head and my eyes much more over the ball as opposed to having the ball 6 – 9 – 12 inches in front of me. I mean, I used to think that’s where I should place the ball but now I’m figuring otherwise.
Furthermore, I think height and center-of-gravity have something to do with this as well. I’m not as tall as many players playing today. I’m more of an old school body type – barely 5’11” and not that stocky. I seem to do much much better when the ball is closer to me. Less room for error and when I establish a low point in my “arc” as they say – it stays true. If the ball gets too much in front of me – that low point changes during my follow-thru.
I’m also thinking I should take a look at Louis Oosthuizen’s swing style – on YouTube or something. He might be a smidge stockier than I but gleaning some tips from his swing style may be better than trying to copy some tall guy like Bubba, Rory, Adam or even Jordan.
So I went ahead and practiced some pitch shots in the front yard along with my 7-iron in the back yard. Shazzamo! – I liked. I liked a lot. I still need to get used to it. Some adjustments need to be made. But I feel way more confidence and less likely to end up digging the dirt – a lot less rocking (north/south) and my arms and knees actually tried to sync on their own. Now let’s see if this holds TRUE to the fire of the next few weeks.
Thanks Sir Nick!!
P.S. Fingers crossed. Maybe I’ll also stop injuring my shoulders.
Last Note on how this kind of swing-recipe seeking can deter even the most enthusiastic golfer: I never heard anyone suggest the need to think about my lateral balance – in all my time researching the sport. I mean never. Everyone talks about the buckle turning but no one says don’t’ rock too much front to back and maybe think about using your big butt muscle to help you.
Now maybe golf pros know about this but I never heard about it and I read a lot. This is exactly why the sport has a hard time retaining converts. The idiosyncrasies and little bits of knowledge required are tantamount to going through an apprenticeship that never ends. Golf is not for the light hearted but for the truly committed.
So maybe the PGA should just help people understand that fact as opposed to trying to change the very fabric of self-discovery that makes this game so unique and profoundly more sophisticated and rewarding than team sports or other sports. No you can’t just go down to the court in the neighborhood park and start hitting drop shots or lay ups or start throwing a pitch and feel competent in a matter of days. But maybe that’s the point and that’s the whole attraction.