February 26, 2020: San Jose, CA.
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.
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.
Question: “Can they go into 4-digits?”
Yuck yuck – I’m such a comedian.
This is what I wrote on January 04, 2017:
Captain’s Log (I always like to pretend I’m Captain Kirk). Journal Entry Title – “Try Try Again & Back to the Future Basics.”
“Well it’s another New Year and I have to stare into my mental mirror and be honest with myself while trying not to extinguish any new flames for getting back onto the golfing saddle so to speak.
Last year I set out some serious goals that I thought would be easily attained in terms of improving my golf game. One of them was to play in a local tournament before the year was out. While on our way to San Diego for a little sun and warmth, my daughter asked me if I had accomplished this simple goal and I had to reply, “No.” I then heard all of my words of advice offered up to her freely in terms of improving at playing the Viola or mastering Calculus assignments or completing her Girls Scout project – how genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration, how putting in the time and making important things a priority in one’s daily life is essential for success at anything…. and all the other sage words I offered to get her through her fall school semester.
COME ON! – How hard is it to play and practice at least 3-4X a month and enter a tournament – ANY tournament?? It could’ve been a tournament for people who never held a golf club and I still would’ve been able to ‘check the box.’
But NO – Bupkiss – I failed. I failed to get myself where I wanted to be by December 30, 2016. I didn’t practice at the range, I didn’t play the easy 9-hole course only 10 minutes ways, I stopped watching Golf Academy, I let my Golf magazine subscription lapse and my clubs gathered dust.
And then. I thought a little harder. But you know? Now that I stop and think about it – HOLD ON! It wasn’t a complete wash. I did make some forays and I did check some boxes. I signed up for lessons and took 4 out of the allotted 5 lessons. And for about 5 weeks I did practice routines that the instructor suggested and did some of my own investigation and work on my balance, foot positioning and swing. I got a pre-paid key for the ball machine and use up half of the $100 dollar allotment. I picked up a new Titliest pitching wedge 56 degree. And I did spend a lot of time online watching Hogan’s and Palmers and Oosterhuis’ and other players’ golf swings ( to see whose body type most matched mine and what they did with it). I gave a ton of thought during meetings at work or while waiting in the security line at the airport on weight shifting and stuff like proper posture and how nothing should be hurried in the backswing. And after a lot of thinking I actually arrived at a conclusion: That I had yet to settle on some of the best basics for my swing – namely my grip and my posture.
As much as I like the pinky grip because it feels more secure, I think it wasn’t allowing me to grasp the club properly with my forefinger and thumb. SO I played around with it – starting around October. And recently decided to experiment with the overlap grip. It wasn’t entirely comfortable at first but it did make me feel like I had more control and consistency in maintaining a firmer but more supple grip all around.
And there was more!!
I also decided that I was bending over too much – and definitely from the waist instead of from the hips and, most importantly, that my lower back was not as straight as it should be. So I started practicing around the house – bending at the hips and settling into a position that had my back-end pushing out as if I was just getting ready to sit down. And I read and Googled more on it and went to the range only a few weeks ago standing taller and more erect. While there, I also flared my left foot a little more to help with some rotation and I tried to keep my chin up a little more in order to really allow room for my shoulders to rotate – something I fail to do a lot but which can really mess with my arc causing a lot of adjustments in the downswing and often making me hit turf before ball.
And, You know what? My first 2017 practice swing at the range with my new Titliest pitching wedges was delicious. And this was after months of not practicing but just mentally and randomly working on some fundamentals until they made sense.
There I was after a long time off the range and I hit several shots that really felt good. After striking a bucket of ~80 balls I had maybe 8 shanks or flubs. 40 swings resulted in fairly straight solid trajectory paths with respectable arcs across my wedges, 8-iron and 5-iron. About 2 strokes were super sweet with the ball flying like it wanted grow feathers and keep going and with barely any sensation on the club head. The rest were pulls or pushes but they stay relatively on course and, considering how long I’d been off the range, I could not be disappointed. Frankly I was pleased.
I had reached a decision for 2017 by concluding several things:
- Sometimes you’re doing work even when it seems like you’re doing nothing
- Basics are the 80/20 rule of work. To go beyond is not advised until you have them down and sometimes it worth taking one step back in order to get those fundamentals down.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself – the past is the past and having a short memory actually can be a good thing in most cases. Because in order for the future to be bright there’s no harm in letting go and getting started again today.
- And sometimes even when you can’t check the box on a big goal you may still be able to point to a few steps in the right direction.
I further thought that this type of thinking is exactly the kind of advice anyone can use when pursuing just about anything including trying to kickstart a start-up company, design a self-driving car or write that great American novel. If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again. Failure and false-starts go hand in hand with perfect passes, winning touchdowns and eventual Super Bowl victories.
And with that – I re-committed.
I’m Back to the Future and I’m headed back to the golf course!
Svgolfer – signing out.
Figures – this is the first year in a while that I didn’t volunteer for the Fry’s.com Open now sponsored by and called the Safeway Open. And this is the year Tiger comes back. How cool would it have been to track balls off the tee while standing in the fairway and sending the GPS coordinates back to the broadcast booth – probably one of my favorite jobs as a volunteer- it can get crazy sometimes when the register doesn’t have the players’ clothing colors correct or caddie bibs are miss matched etc. so it’s hard to tell who is who using binoculars and getting your measurements in on time before they take their second shot….Still it’s a blast and you get to work in pairs and share your love of golf stories with another amateur.
But that was literally the last time I spent anytime focusing on golf – almost one full year ago – and since then I’ve been heads down at a new Silicon Valley gig marketing yet another Cloud technology-as-a-Service. I can’t complain – even in this very warm Valley economy having a gig is a blessing. Clearly I’ve had little time to do anything else let alone fulfill many of my golfing new year’s goals. But actually I did fulfill going back and signing up for lessons with an instructor and getting in a few practice rounds. And I got a new Titliest pitching wedge 56 degree Vokey. But I never played an amateur tournament. I’ll need to carry that over to next year although I still have 2 months left. Still I’m happy to see the tournament underway. And I’m getting ready to get serious again about my golf game. I can’t look backwards. I need to figure out a way to work hard and still improve my golf game. I think I need to embrace the term “baby steps.”
Hey how many yards to the pin? Wrong day – I mean the finish line.
My sweetie did great and her team with Mitty came in second at the regionals. I think they qualified for state finals. Sometimes life comes first.
On another note – while sick for the last two weeks I learned that the left shoulder is the center of the circle for the golf swing and my body type lends itself to a width power swing. More on that later
Watching people at the airport in Phoenix Arizona . Waiting for my plane . Still have about 2 hours to go. Travel is OK if it’s not too long.
Would rather be putting tho fo’ sho’.
Caught a little bit of WGC and HSBC tournament last night. Who says Asia isn’t taking over the world? They have all the money right? My how the tides have changed in just a few years. I remember when Hong Kong was pre-china and still belonged to the Brit.
Found a good viewing seat with an electric outlet Boo Yah!
Here r some tunes for your Monday
Summer rain by Cloud
Feel by Lisa Shaw
Here I Am by David Morales
Nightlights by Polyphonics
One heart by Kaskade
And if you don’t want upbeat dance tunes you can always turn on Aja by the one and only Steely Dan.