Since last I wrote, I’ve been digging and studying a practicing. This truly as an argonaut’s journey.
Mike Austin – this guy from back in the day who made some videos with himself in a skeleton body suit to discuss the pair of ball joints and motions that are involved in the golf swing. The videos are really quite informative – check ’em out. I’ve never seen anything else explain it quite the way he does. You’ve got the connection between your skull/neck and spine which is a pivot area, your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, ankles, knees and so on. He concludes many videos by emphasizing that the swing is about the sequence of these joints operating in pronation, flexing and extensions and a bunch of other muscle-motion related terms but it all makes sense when you watch. THIS has made an impression on me and I’m incorporating it into my practices
My Grip – I’m done with the pinky grip. I’ve been using this grip since I’ve started learning on day one. I’ve now decided, “Who cares if Tiger uses it?! – it does not help my hands work as one!” I’ve played around and found that the baseball grip works much better for me. It was a little awkward at first but …. waddayagonnado? – it’s now quite comfortable. I can actually feel more of a pendulum motion at the top of my back swing and the bottom and the follow thru. I just have way more fluidity. In addition, after practicing with wiffle balls and a portable mat at the local university – SJSU – I made an adjustment to my baseball grip by putting my left thumb under the palm of my right hand instead of having it wrap around the club like a baseball bat. Both ways are better than the pinky but this small adjustment stops me from pulling inwards and coming over the top on my downswing. My fingers (especially my forefinger) don’t get in my way – meaning they don’t get excited and trigger happy making my arms and wrist tense up – who knew that the ability to pinch interferes with the ability to grip and hold. With this new method, I can really feel the club AND control it.
More on posture – when how-to instructions talk about putting your weight left or right they’re really referring to your CoG (center of gravity) which requires a different mental calculus than just shifting some weight to one leg or the other. I finding that the imagery of having my head/neck act as the fulcrum in a catapult that is trying to fling a canon ball (that is cradled to the golf head) along an arc to its destination target – this helps me understand how the whole head-neck-shoulder-armpit-arm apparatus is suppose to ‘work-as-on’ and why my head needs to stay till. It’s all about the swinging – not the pulling or the batting but the rocking motion of an oil rig or those sailing ship pendulum swing rides at the amusement park. More importantly, I’ve realized that because I’m of average height (5’10.5″ – 11″) but have a low center of gravity (maybe its my runner-thighs) that I establish a much better pendulum flow and arc if I assume a fairly – actually very – straight posture – like I’m barely leaning forward. Basically, just slightly bending my knees and tilting my head a bit. Maybe it’s because I have a fairly pronounced curvature in my lower back already or something but …. things are more natural and my swing’s more consistent and the sequence of interplay between joints more natural when I do that.
So it feels like the good weather is bringing back some good spirits and good willingness and aptitude for this year’s attempt at improving my golf game. Maybe it’s related to the fact that my daughter is back home studying college courses via distance learning – because it’s been some time since I’ve focused this much. Or maybe it’s COVID-19. Or maybe my brain finally got tired of me trying to mentally imagine how to improve my swing.
But I must say – today’s practice felt good and generated good results. Out of about 100 wiffle balls I had only 6-7 shanks or pulls or top-overs. I had a couple balls fly right. And the rest all fell in a radius of 8 feet about 25-35 yard straight ahead of me with about 70% of those within a radius of 5 feet.
It was a nice day on the open grass. A lot of students were taking graduation pictures since there was no graduation ceremony. The flowers were blooming and it was a classic dry, clean sunshine, cautiously breezy easy kind of day.
Abstract:Grab a car floor mat, preferably a front seat mat. Hold it as you typically would at one of its corners, prepare to thwack the dirt off of it by find a vertical surface like a wall or one of those yellow hip-height gas station pilon/pole things that protect gasoline pumps from fender benders or, better yet, something that looks like a telephone pole …… the type of pole you might find, say, at a car wash next to the big vacuum machines ….. – and then start thwacking it like you’ve done all your life – and voila!! You too may realize my AHA moment! From this silicon valley golfer’s perspective you’re (I’m) performing every aspect of winding up (with no chicken wing), pausing at the top, transferring your weight with your hips and legs, and swinging thru with perfect timing to have the club head – i mean, the surface of the mat – smack the pole perpendicular for maximum dust jettisoning effect … and you’ve assimilated all those tips and tricks every golf instructor or YouTube video has been trying to explain to you but for some reason you could never translate to your real-time golf game. Phew – long run on sentence there – my bad.
Even your fingers will be grasping the mat in a manner that amazingly matches the ideal golf club grip (you know, like those holding-a-gun analogies or a baseball in preparation to pitch analogies or a skipping stone at lakeside analogy or pick any number of mental images) that requires the cocking of the forefinger and V-shaped pressing of your thumb’s plumpy base against the base of said forefinger and where middle, 3rd and pinky fingers curl and tuck in nicely behind the aforementioned duo. (Sidenote: The only other previous best analogy for me to conjure up a mental image up until now was holding a carving knife with a nice big chef’s handle … the thumb, fore finger and other fingers seemingly fall right into place without me having to see if my second knuckle is visible and all that other mechanical garble-dee-goop). It is the perfect analog, to my mind, for what you’re trying to accomplish with a golf club from a balanced position which, by the way, you also natural assume as you prepare for maximum dust-thwacking propulsion effect. So that’s the shorthand abstract of my AHA golf swing story. But wait – I know you. You enjoy my clever anecdotes, ramblings and digression – yes? no? No matter, the long form in all its glory follows. That’s how this golf Argonaut rolls. Happy visioning!
FULL NARRATIVE: I’m one of those people who needs to visually and mentally understand a concept before I can execute anything that is difficult to do especially when it comes to sports. This is especially true for my attempts at understanding what the golf swing is suppose to feel like.
For years I’ve struggled – even though I’ve improved – to develop a sense of fluidity with my golf swing like I have, say, for shooting a basketball three-pointer or pitching a baseball. I might not be a professional but I completely and conceptually understand the form, flow and function of every part of my body for these motions. And, more importantly, I can actually perform the proper sequence in good form too I might add. However, try as I might, this has escaped me in terms of the golf swing until now or rather until a few weeks ago when I was cleaning my car at the do-it-yourself car wash or more specifically while I was whacking the dust out of the car’s floor mats – that’s right, I found the answer I’ve been looking for low these past 5+ years while pounding out dust from a car’s floor mats – go figure. This! … after having contemplated any number of metaphors and similes and analogies and suggestions as to what the golf swing motion resembles ….. some of which are listed below.
Any number of visualizations have been offered via live instruction, books, magazines and TV shows. “The swing is similar to throwing a freebie, or like the set-up and bowling a bowling ball or cracking a whip or driving a top-spin cross-court backhand in tennis.” And the stance is all about setting up in a balanced way much like a weight lifter prepares to lift bar bells (back posture, posterior pushed back, arms hanging loosely in front, etc.). The motion is not dissimilar to the process of throwing a javelin or a discus or even sweeping the floor with a broom.
Over the years, I’ve spent considerable time trying to understand the fundamentals of the grip and the angle of my back and how to bend at the hips and not at the waist and all other such basics the lack of which everyone agrees conspire to complicate one’s golf swing. For the grip, I’ve finally agreed with Curtis Strange who I believe emphasized that you hold the club with your fingers which I’ve finally taken to mean that the middle fingers of my right hand have the most grip and my fore finger and thumb play a lesser role in terms of forcefulness. In time, I eventually came to the concept that my right hand should mimic holding a steak knife (if you cut a steak in the french way that requires switching the knife from the left to the right hand as you cut and then back to the left for eating) – or, for example, if you’re slicing a tomato or an onion with a butcher’s knife. Paying attention to how I hold the knife in these circumstances is very instructive – the middle fingers have the most command, the forefinger behaves like a cradling hook that guides and navigates action and the handle sits in the crux created where the base of the thumb meets the base of the forefinger of the hand exactly as golf instructors describe the “V” that should occur as the thumb presses up against the hand. Another example might be how a well trained drummer holds drum sticks or how one might hold a flat rock before preparing to skip it across the surface of a lake. You don’t drum a drum by holding drum sticks in the palm of your hand – how could you ever play Grateful Dead drum solos or master cool jazz music and cascading cymbals with that kind of a hold ….no, it’s all in the fingers, that’s where you get the power along with the flexibility and ease of movement.
I continued to visualize other analogies for set-up and balance that included the way a tennis player prepares to launch himself towards the ball as it reaches its apex in the toss or how all athletes – football players when they set before the hiking of the ball or basketball players on defense or a tennis player preparing to receive a serve – they all establish a posture that maximizes the power of their core by having firm straight backs and balancing their weight with a wide stance so they can spring into action in any direction. Nobody bends at the waist. Each of these examples requires angles that incorporate firm control of the core and the hips. I also recall how some instructors talk about standing ‘at attention’ like a soldier – tall and straight, chest kinda out, stomach kinda in, head and eyes looking forward – and only then bending the knees and bending at the hips to reach a balanced but strong position to take action.
All this is well and good and has been informative. But then, after months of randomly visiting the topic as time permitted, I found myself at the car wash – the ones where you can hand wash your car in a bay and where there are several power tube vacuums and other accouterments for detailing your car. I had pulled out the floor mats and, as everyone does, I began whacking them against a metal pole to knock out the ground in dust – and the AHA! appeared literally out of thin air.
In order to have the mat strike the pole squarely face on I noticed that my body was doing all the things in the right fluid order that seemed right for a golf swing – especially how I gripped the mat with my fingers but most importantly how my wrists behaved. Everyone talks about how your wrists are supposed to roll over as you strike the ball – from the inside of the wrist looking like its facing the sky at the top of the back swing to it turning over and facing perpendicular to the ground as you follow through – in a sense this wrist motion mimics the power that is derived from similar action when pitching or swinging a baseball bat or throwing a football (perhaps not skyward vs. ground-ward but the wrist does follow a circular trajectory to end 180 degrees opposite from where it started) and demonstrates why it’s so hard for novices to have the power to throw anything well because they only use their arms and elbows but fail to get the right wrist action going.
But as I struck the mat against the pole – it was all so natural. I drifted the mat backwards, turned it as if towards the sky – in a nice slow leisurely fashion and then my body legs shoulders elbows and core all cooperated to gently shift and fluidly re-direct it towards the pole until at the last moment – THWACK – I hit the mat straight on, perpendicular to the ground with the face of the mat perfectly up/down. Had I continued the swing as if the pole didn’t exist, my wrist would have continued to roll until the mat faced the ground. It clearly faced skyward at the top of my ‘back swing.’
So now – finally – I have a concept and a visual that I understand wholly and believe in. Instead of all that other stuff like whipping the golf club by holding it upside down or pretending to use a horse whip or whatever – if I visualize trying to strike a floor mat downward at a golf ball – I have a sense of surety and comfort and faith that I am using the right fluid motion. It inherently makes sense to me.
I think that’s what the SKLZ golf hitting practice bag is also trying to impart but this analogy just strikes home for me in a more fundamental and natural way. It’s been 2 1/2 years since my daughter started college and my efforts at improving my golf game remain as erratic as they’ve ever been despite my belief that I’d have more time during this new chapter in my life and despite the fact that I can play all year round. And although I’ve developed a method of quickly converting her room into a practice chipping green while she’s away – the truth is I’ve spent the past couple years steadfastly stuck and focused understanding how to implement the fundamentals as they must apply to my body.
I now have an understanding of how to hold and swing the club. And I’ve done some others things along the way to reaching this epiphany. I’ve changed my grips to a size larger because I figured out I have long fingers compared to the size of my palms (math and ratios play such a large yet quiet role in so much of the fundamentals) and the standard grips didn’t allow me to use my fingers as optimally as I should. I’ve learned that I’ve been bent over way too much and that I have a fairly low center of gravity which means I can and should stand much more erect – kinda maybe like Fred Couples does maybe?. This is also due to the fact that my spine really curves frontwards a lot at the base near my hips so my arms still get sufficient clearance despite my erect stature. Even though the fundamentals are the same and ring true for all players and all sports, they can be and often are implemented in very custom fashion to suit the body and preference of the player. For example, I’m reminded of how the basics of a tennis serve are the same for all players and yet John McEnroe’s set-up was radically different from most players while Bjorn Borg had a classic set-up and yet they both were great servers.
So now I have a concept of how I’m suppose to handle the club, the club head and my wrists – which in turn informs my elbows, arms and horizontal motions backwards and forwards.
I just have to ‘Feel the Force’ of the floor mat thwacking the metal pole at the car wash and I’m on my way to entering a new chapter in my journey learning to play golf. And yes – that last sentence was a nod to the latest Star Wars movie in the wings. This last chapter marks the beginning of a new one for me.
Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. The importance of sitting up straight is one of those things. Grade school instructors knew that establishing proper posture had many benefits and would serve you well for life. If you’re in the military its one of the first – if not THE first thing – drill sergeants teach you. If you don’t sit right at the office you’ll warp and stress your back with ensuing negative consequences. Posture matters for ballerinas and baseball players – and go figure?… it matters when playing golf.
I’m tweaked at my golf instructor. I was hoping he would give me strict instruction about some of the basics like posture and proper set up because I believe these are core to why I play and strike so inconsistently. I even told him as much. I know every golfer must find “his own swing,” but I wanted someone to bark the basics at me about what I need to think about when placing my feet, how far I should or should not lean forward, figuring out if I should place the ball inside my left heel or not (some people do, some people don’t), how to hold my head – stuff like that. He’s a nice guy and he knows a lot but all I got was a lot of talk – smart conceptual talk but talk that I wasn’t ready for – about thinking about where the ball was going to land, and being in the box versus out of the box, etc. Maybe the one useful thing I took away was his comparing golfing to bowling. I’d been searching for the right analogy and that one makes more sense than baseball or tennis or any other sport.
Paul Azinger, in one of those Golf Academy sessions, said if you don’t learn or improve something right away you need to change instructors and find someone who works for you. It’s up to you to tell them what you need but after that the fundamentals should improve if the instructor is worth his salt. I purchased a set of lessons last year – yes a whole year ago – and then got disillusioned after no improvement came… only to sign up for more with the same instructor. I’m upset with myself.
Anyway. I’m sitting on the remaining 2 lessons working on my short game before I see him again. But in the hiatus I started just watching YouTube and thinking about posture and how you often hear commentators talk about a golfers standing or remaining “tall” as if they are keeping the rope of their swing taut to ensure a smooth perimeter for the swing. And I began to realize that my posture was terrible. Good posture is the foundation for Hogan’s five fundamentals so I revisited instructions on how to achieve it. I think I understand now why golfers like Jason Day do that mechanical practice barrel-like roll swing – as if to re-groove the posture of leaning forward while sitting in a chair with a straight back feeling.
I started playing around, trying to find a stance where I wasn’t too straight or too bent – and where I ensured I bent at the hip not my waist making sure not to bend forward too much (i have a tendency to do that) and keeping my arms straight out – not by forcing them with muscle exertion but as if I was desperately straining/trying to reach the ball and it was just out of reach.
It’s helping!! In fact, I’ve been back to the range and struck the ball more consistently and with a sweeter spot than ever. Knuckling the ball decreased considerably. So I think I’m onto something.
I’ve been away from the sport for a long time. I need to readjust my expectations – this will be an exercise in years of patience not months … especially as I hold onto my Silicon Valley job with all of its travel and ‘always on’ demands.’ But thankfully we do get auto-adjusting sit/stand desks with location memory at work as standard issue (no medical note required) and I’ve started standing at work to negate the negative effects of sitting all day. They also introduced mini-massages the other day and I’ve started to take advantage of them. My back is one big wiry knot.
Posture and grip are my two main focus points for now along with trying to internalize the concept that I’m swinging my club more like I’m spinning a little child by the hands around and around to make us both dizzy like I used to back in the day. I’m not trying to pull or tug an ax at the ball. Speaking of kids – getting my daughter off to college last year was another major life stage that just seemed to put everything else on hold – so I’m not beating my self up for being away from the game for so long. She’s there and doing well and we’re proud.
But I am committed now to just tackling one thing at a time. I have a mini chipping net and mat set up in her now empty room (easily stored when she comes home on vacation) and I’m using those golf wiffle balls and yellow sponge balls to practice. I think I’m onto something. I can feel the difference. And it all starts with establishing a good replicable posture.
Once I get that down I’ll move onto another basic like “Do one thing at a time!” or “Focus” and “Don’t Let Your Mind Wander!”
I should have paid more attention in grade school I guess.
Photos provided by UnSplash photographers, Kelly Miller “Chair” & Feliphe Schiaroli “Classroom”
When instructors talk about shifting your weight during the swing, they’re really referring to shifting your pressure – as in the pressure points where you feet connect to the ground. This is why so often you might hear about the swing really starting from the lower body and the feet. Go ahead and Google videos on “foot pressure and the golf swing” and you’ll see what I mean.
When I hear ‘shift your weight’ invariably I try and move my body mass and center of gravity (which usually involves my head) laterally to the left or right – which isn’t comfortable and often makes the small of my back hurt. However, when I try to shift pressure points it’s all about where my weight presses against the ground in term of the ball of my feet and the heels and which foot.
So when I need to shift right, my body stays in the exact same place mostly but my left ankle relaxes and flexes up from the heel so that most of my pressure glides over to my right foot and rests between the big-toe ball and my inner heel. The more my swing goes back, the more the pressure transitions to the back of my right heel and my left foot goes into a mini high-heel position which may or may not also result in my left knee rising – much like a batter winding up to strike the ball. Shifting pressure points back left again is more footwork with a push off the right foot and a slight bend back to the front, while my left heel returns firmly down to the ground bracing itself for me to begin rotating around my left leg as an axis. All this coincides with a similar change in vertical-ness as far as my shoulder sockets go – because we all should be starting off with the right shoulder slightly lower than the left but during the backswing the right shoulder will switch height location with the left in a way that matches what’s going on ‘down-ground.’
But the huge AHA takeaway for me is – it is NOT about moving my shoulders and torso laterally from left to right or really about me feeling a lot of strain in my thighs but rather about this groove and shift between my left and right feet. That’s why the head needs to generally stay in place – even though many great pros like Jack Nicklaus actually move their head behind the ball when swinging through.
Observation #2. Golf is a lot of math and geometry. Golf is so much about circles and straight lines. Every round part of our bodies – from the balls of our feet and our ankle, to our knee sockets and hip sockets, to our arms and elbow and shoulder sockets – needs to rotate and un-rotate in sync to get that straight bone that’s connected to the socket in question to swing groovy and smoothly.
But when I think about the pressure thingy – the analog of the swing being more like bowling & throwing rings true for me. The way I rock before winding up to bowl a bowling ball and how I try to roll the ball onto the wooden floor works better than the image of trying to hit a baseball even if there are many similarities in the wind up and delivery.
Golf swings are also very unique for each individual depending on the measurementsbetween all these round body parts as explained in the article which really shed more light on what my swing should be like. I started measuring myself – my wingspan, my forearm, etc., and I’m beginning to think that mine’s more of a swing that settles below the plain of my shoulders at the apex of the back swing versus above the shoulder line. And who knew? Many pros reach high points in their back swings that are either above, at, or below their shoulder planes as also described in this piece. It was very enlightening. And it makes sense – after all – every one has a different combinations on pant & inseam, neck and shirt sleeve and waist dimensions along with height dimensions. So what works for a tall golfer doesn’t necessarily translate for a stocky or long-armed or short-legged or whatever-dimension-ed golfer.
Now I won’t try to force myself to rotate so much and have my left wrist reach above my ears during the back swing – which is very uncomfortable. Instead I’m going to swing back in a way that more mimics a side-arm pitcher. I feel much more comfortable that way.
Glad to be back after many months away and hoping to get back into a rhythm. Happy Friday.
Just a quick note of thanks to the words of encouragement from you fellow good golfers and hacker golfers out there.
Not long after I made my journal entry about failing to accomplish much of any of my 2016 golfing goals, the universe seemed to take pity on me and I stumbled onto a friend who belongs to a group of guys – some hackers some quite good – who play once a month as a kinda club.
He invited me out. And I actually took him up on it instead of hiding behind some excuse that was really disguising my fear of having to display my lacking abilities in public (I’m always coming up with excuses). Talk about rare. I decided to say “Yes” to the universe this time.
And guess what?…….. wait for it…………….. wait for it
I played 18 holes at the Half Moon Bay Golf Course right next to the Ritz Carlton (beautiful place) south of San Francisco on a gorgeous Saturday last last weekend.
Don’t ask me how I did. This was a binary victory. Did I play – Yes/ No. Yes – you win!
It was a good time.
I am getting some more motivation. And I actually struck my first shot – a 3 iron on a Par 4 dog-leg left perfectly. And then it went down hill – but overall, not too shabby.
Fear is such a big resistance engine. I’ve just gotta get over myself and my fear. Turns out – nobody really cares as long as we have a good time which we did.
Next step: re-evaluating my stance. I think my stance is too narrow. I was flipping thru an instruction handbook and it recommended that you drop a club from each shoulder straight down and your heels should be just outside of the line where it lands. If so, I’ve been depriving myself of stability with a way too narrow stance.
But we’ll see.
Anyway – that’s all I got.
I’m back in the game for now and hopefully for a much longer stint this time. Better yet – hopefully – forever! If I remember one of our other popular golf writer’s comments – “It all starts with making a decision and listening to your motivation and desire.”
Next stop – signing up with the NCGA and working towards establishing my official handicap number.