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.
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.
wrist, arms, shoulders, and hips turning in sequence with a frisbee
Did some front yard practicing today with my at-home practice station. Took out my SKLZ target netting, a fairly huge contraption but easy to set up (don’t worry I don’t use real golf balls – i use the perforated plastic ones instead), and tried out my new grips and tried to focus on some backswing drills that work on the CASH principle of trying to move/turn the clubhead (in other words – the wrists) first, then the arms then the shoulders and then the hips.
I did a few swings slow motion but it was hard to think it through on a normal swing and I started to get all jumbled.
Then I remembered a thought I had after reading something online – about the swing really being all about the left arm. If you use the left arm to move the club instead of your right arm – you’ll have a better chance of guiding the club correctly.
That’s the thing with golf – it’s such a game of opposites – swing down to get the ball up, focus on calming your mind instead of getting all pumped up, work on being more humble instead of brandishing your ego. When it comes to the swing – I’m figuring out it’s about using your non-dominate arm instead of getting power and control from your right arm (if you’re right handed).
So I had a little Eureka moment. When i tried to focus on that – I came up with the thought of trying to throw a frisbee with my left hand. I was playing with the idea that the backswing and the swing all together is more like a left-handed backhand in tennis. I read that in one of the blogs or a magazine. And I always heard that the swing altogether is like trying to skip a stone across a pond or similar to a pitcher throwing a baseball. But the latter images made me focus on my right hand and action with my right wrist arm and shoulders. But when I tried to emulate throwing a frisbee with my left hand I sorta kinda really got the sensation of having to keep that left arm extended, turning my wrists at the right times and leading with my hips as I tried to shift from back to front. It was palatable and replicable and natural even if awkward.
I also got the feeling that I could also emulate the sensation of trying to hit a nail with a hammer – something you hear many pros talk about when talking about the precise nature of getting the sequence for power right…the idea that you delay the striking of the hammer until just before you hit the nail much like you need to delay the club head from swinging forward until it comes back down below your hips. The whipping sensation came about naturally when I tried to swing like I was throwing a frisbee – because the speed of the frisbee comes from delaying the flicking of the wrist until the last moment.
Anywho – the ‘throwing of the frisbee with my left hand’ seems to work conceptually for me much more so then trying to think clubhead, arms, shoulders, hips.
So my practice session was useful in that regard. Now I’ll have to see if that sensation remains after a few more practices. But after several weeks of feeling like I haven’t started making improvements on anything except putting, this is a glimmer of hope.
That’s golf for ya’. Just when you start to get discouraged, she throws you a bone and you’re right back in it like its the first day. Hazzah!!
So I’m back into focusing on my game. I played 9 holes a couple weeks back and although it wasn’t a great round I did notice that the one area I did well in was my putting – which is the one area I’ve been focusing on since the beginning of the year. I can’t beat myself up too much because work’s been a grind and I haven’t been able to focus or practice much but I need to double down and re-look at my goals for this year. But it felt great having such a grooved routine that I didn’t have to even think about for my putting. I never 3-putted and I guess that counts for something.
I’m almost done with my batch of lessons – my very first batch of lessons from an instructor EVER! – and I have to admit that the greatest benefit from this is that I swing all the way around in one full motion now – instead of decelerating or stopping short. My instructor’s been good with giving me mental thoughts and I’ve changed out my grips (per his advice) for the first time ever. Who knew? (common phrase for me it seems) but grips are like running shoes – you have to replace them every so often even if you don’t play with them – they dry out from use and/or age. At a minimum you should wash them often to get the grit off.
So now I have a new set of Golf Prides’ that are a smidge wider than my older grips on my new/used set of Titliest DC9’s.
And now I have a confidence that if I focus on a particular area of my game, I will see improvement over time – so I’m gonna focus on my irons. 3-9.
Recently I read a GratefulG blog about the many resources available to us die-hards and I decided to take advantage of online videos and such to research how to practice my backswing where I have a lot of trouble sequencing club movement and staying on plane. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the real sequence evolves from thinking purely about the left arm’s movement and to think: clubhead, then arms, then shoulders, then hips when it comes to what rotates in what order. The acronym is CASH. Move the clubhead to 730pm on the clock face, then move the arms to 9 oclock, then turn the shoulders until the left shoulder is under your chin/chest over your right foot, and lastly turn your hips until your back faces the target. Also, I’m learning that the backswing is not where you get power – it’s just the set-up to get into position – like pulling the bow back before you release the arrow. Once I got the CASH thing in my head, I saw it every where – on TV, in magazines and in a ton of online videos so this is a fundamental that I need to groove into a routine.
Anyway, that’s where I am for now. I haven’t written in a while but I’m gonna try and get back in the saddle for that as well.
My Pittsburgh Steelers are playing tonight – whoo hoo! life is good. I love my new grips – they feel great. I shoulda done that a long time ago.
Couple of quick notes as I shake of my work week (phew – what a doozy, nothing but non-stop digital marketing stuff AND I had to compile a bunch of end-of-quarter budget and projections stuff. and i hate working with numbers (except on the course, chuckle chuckle…. “for the love!!!”).
Note #1: Hadn’t been to my favorite before-work putting green in a while but I didn’t have to drop my daughter off at summer school this morning so swung by and did a few putts trying to a do nothing but 2-putts from about 30 feet out. Hit them all. I really developing confidence and trust in my routine. And it’s becoming natural – I don’t think to much at all about it. About time I guess – I’ve been working on it since January. My first putts were all within 5 feet and I nailed them all in. Sidenote – it was a damp morning. I always seem to do better on damp greens (not wet enough to leave grass on the ball – just la little moist).
Note #2: I’ve been working at my at-home practice station on pausing at the top of my swing – very deliberately – and I’m getting a much better feel for my transitions from front to back.
Note #3: Watched the shark (Greg Norman – who also makes a fabulous Pinot
The shark has a nose for good wine
Noir and you gotta love his apparel too, right?) on the Golf Channel and he talked about getting to a position halfway in your backswing where you could literally shake hands with someone standing directly behind you if the butt end of your shaft was pointing directly at the target. To do this you have to really focus on keeping your swing low and extending that left arm so your outer circle keeps it’s proper circumference. Anyway, I’ve been practicing that to good effect as well. Swinging from the ground up he says – really keeps you from going inside to quickly.
Note #4: Sitting down after this long week, with nobody home, so the first thing to do is flip on the Golf Channel and the Web.com tour is on and this golfer – James Driscoll – was sharing some practice tips for after his -7 round. He has a club with some pebbles or bullets in it or something that makes a audible sound – he takes the club to the top, waits for the stones to drop and for the noise from rattling around in the shaft to stop, and then swing. He was working on deliberately pausing at the top of his swing. So that re-affirmed some of the direction I was taking the past two week.
Going slow, taking my time, learning to pause and shaking the hand of the invisible guy behind me are thoughts I’ve been holding onto with good result. This game takes time to dial-in but persistence seems to pay off. Maybe I’ll get to play a 9-holer this weekend before I dive back into the melee. That’s the valley – what can i say!
Quick notes from Golf Central on the Golf Channel with Martin Hall. I feel affirmed about my hunches about the backswing that I blogged about a couple days ago.
New book released by David Leadbetter called “The A Swing – the alternative approach to Great Golf”
DL’s 8th instructional book. Why?
It’s about the backswing – because the backswing is really difficult to repeat on a consistent basis . Most amateurs go way inside too quick or turn too soon versus really good athletes who can compensate better.
It’s all about synchronization between the inside circle (your hands) and the outside (the club head) of the body or the 2 circles of the swing.
Leadbetter mentions Calvin Peete as one of his favorite players with a great swing. Up there with Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, etc. Interestingly, Calvin swung with a bent left arm because it was broken during childhood and never re-set properly. He died recently.
Calvin Peete never let the clubhead get behind his hands. Hands stay in and the clubhead stayed out.
He likens it to a batter in baseball – go figure, just like I mused about in my recent random thoughts blog entry and I know the Grateful Golfer mentions this in his blog as well.
If you keep the clubhead outside all the way to the top you end up in a sorta natural batter’s set-up position which sets you up for more consistent down swings where the club head levels out perfectly to strike the ball.
Closing comments – It’s all about simplicity.
I’m gonna take a look at some Calvin Peete swings on Youtube or something. And next time I’m in the book store, I’ll check out the book.
But this is re-assuring …. Leadbetter’s approach. Because I still don’t fell ultra-confident about my ability to be consistent with my backswing.
What a nice end to what was an unusually grueling day in the Valley.