My Golf Swing AHA Moment at-the-Car-Wash

How to learn the illusive secrets to the ideal Golf Swing while cleaning your car?

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!

My wind up for golfing AND playing whack-a-mole…

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.

My back is killing me – how am I supposed to posture again?

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.

I’m glad I don’t have to play wearing a suit – yeeeesh!

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.

I’m so smart .. I got this… .I’m just the shizbot, yes? Please please please say yes?
My ego and self-assurance – it’s so fragile ya’ know?

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.

Random Observation on the Golf Swing & Weight Balancing

InStanceHipDown_igor-ovsyannykov-270958When 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 measurements between 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.

Royalty Free Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Check it out. THE SWING PLANE EXPLAINED.

What do I mean “I’m a Width Golfer?”

So I’m walking thru this recycled book store as I often do with my daughter – and, as I often do, I went to the golf book section to see what words of advice I might scan thru and I came across an old book that talked about the Laws of the Swing.  It’s called “The Laws of the Golf Swing” by Mike Adams.  It’s an older book but it talks about body types and various golf swings.

The basic gist of it was – there are three basic types of physics for executing a golf swing and they are based on your body type.  Many other bloggers (like Grateful G) have talked about how there are as many different types of swing set ups and such as there are batting styles or pitching styles or methods of striking a tennis ball etc.

But the reasoning behind it is as follows.  If you’re taller and thiner than you are wide you’re a leverage player meaning you use height to generate power in your swing and your swing plane will be more up-to-down or vertical.  You’ll arc your swing more than others and really reach behind you at the top of your swing.  Think Bubba or other tall golfers.  If you’re medium build you’ll have a different set up that is more fluid and circular.  And if you’re like me – less flexible, shorter than most golfers (barely 5’10.5″), and stockier – you’ll generate more power by swing side-to-side – using your width and generating power laterally or horizontally.  I was a little disappointed to have to come to terms with my body type but I tried some of the methods suggested for figuring out my body type such as folding my right arm with my thumbup and seeing if my thumb touched below, at, or above my shoulder plane – and it rang true.  The tests in the book are pretty simple and quick to do.  Plus I showed my wife the pictures of the different body types and she immediately identified me as the stockier wider type guy.  Welcome to my middle-aged-dom right?

Anyway, as I read on it made sense.  What it meant was I should disregard techniques and advice that try to make me swing very wristy or talk a lot about the top of the swing and such.  I now know that a lot of the advice dished out in Golf magazine or even by pro golfers are for a body type that does not necessarily jive with mine.

I swing best when I swing like I’m doing tug of war with a rope that runs along the the target line.  To go back to the baseball analog – If i were a pitcher I would pitch side-arm versus overhead or even at 10 o’clock.  I much prefer and have better consistency when I cock my right arm at 3 o’clock and limit my backswing so I don’t have very much turn.  If I were a batter, I would swing more like Babe Ruth – like I’m prepping to give someone an upper-cut in boxing – i wouldn’t hit the ball at the bottom of the batter’s box but would do better to swing at a fastball high because my batting plane would be much more horizontal  so I would sway or float backward than forward.

The takeaways for me were to execute a very short backswing, pushing my club away from me backwards-directly opposed to the target with my left arm and tugging it away as well with my right – trying to push the circumference of my swing to create a horizontal oval shape versus an vertical one.  I would bend at the hips and lean forward a little more to get around my somewhat wider chest which prevents me from effectively marrying my hands beyond a certain point during my backswing because to do so sorta forces me off-plane because I’m not very flexible anymore.  So my swing is faster and shorter in length and looks like I use way more chest and arms than most people do but my plane stays consistent and I’m less likely to come over the top of the ball.  It also means, I stand a little wider, have much less arc (even though I finish full swing and have no problem getting the club all the way around), and I place the ball just a little bit farther back than most – closer to center for my irons versus in-line with my left heel.  It also means I need to flare my feet just a little (my left more so than my right) so I can add some turn to my hips beyond what my arms allow me.  And I move my right foot back just a smidge to help clear my hips.

Still taking my lessons, I really didn’t want to add more adjustments to my repertoire and louse things up – but I went to the driving range to practice and I have to admit – the adjustments worked.  I had more consistency and confidence and had a much lower tendency of chunking the dirt early or coming up over the top.  I was striking 80% accuracy towards my target (within a margin of error of some 10-15 feet, aiming at a target 135-150 yards away using my 9 and 7 irons) and had only one shank out of a bucket of 50.  Maybe the first time ever  that has happened to me!!

The biggest thing for me was to consciously not try to overdue my backswing but to stop as soon as my left arm crossed my chest and lay horizontal.  I also became more comfortable bending at the hips so my arms really hung like sausages instead of trying to mimic great erect posture like an Adam Scott or somebody.  Let’s face it, many of those guys on the Champions Tour hang over the ball like gargoyles perched on a roof top more than some 20-something 360 degree swinging arch-angel.

So – I’m pleased with this finding.  It tells me that: 1) I need to filter all those magazine articles and TV shows words-of-advice because often, I imagine, their talking to that younger more agile player than someone like me; 2) It’s worth the effort to keep digging for more information all the time because the more I learn the more likely I am to find suggestions that match me; 3) if advice is going to help me, it should generate fairly immediate and visible results.  In fact, I remember Paul Azinger in one of those very same golf channel shows saying that if you don’t see fairly quick results from a word of advice (assuming you’re following them correctly) then just maybe it’s not great advice – for you.

Net net, my confidence in my swing just went up a notch.  Here’s a picture of the book cover.  Yes – I had to come to terms with the fact that I have a belly, and I’m not so flexible, and my chest gets in the way of my swing – but knowledge is power if you don’t take it personally I guess.  Besides, I’m starting to run again and I should lose 20 lbs in no time – yeah, right.  Famous last words.  Every year, I tell my wife – “Just give me a month and Shazzamo! I’ll be back to my old self !!”

The key to success is self-knowledge sometimes.

And, next to it – another picture from a Paris Golf Poster that I’m thinking resembles my style as a width player.DSCN1264Laws of the Golf Swing

Golf lesson 2b

Also, note to self – keep tension out of shoulders, and finish with elbows pointing down which is much easier if you don’t tense up in shoulder area. I got at standing workstation at work also to help counteract poor posture and muscle tension from sitting at a desk all day.

Some 18 months or more into my serious journey and I really feel like I’ve turned a corner.

Thx guys for encouraging me along and chiming in with your learnings as well

Golf Lesson #2

20150307-121641.jpg

Wow. This guy at Los Lagos GC sure is kinda different. Just finished my 2nd lesson. Will write more later but a few quick notes. Marry my right hand to the club n make sure all my fingers are on. Continue focus on holding finish. Think with your heart not your brain. The heart has more neurons than ur brain. It is a better intelligence and starting point for action. Be positive. Let go tension by breathing and thinking with a positive heart. I swung thru every ball with a trajectory that was fairly on target. No slices no chunks but more importantly much less fear and anxiety. I am grateful for my lessons. What a great Saturday. I just might sign up to play 9 or 18 holes by Tax day. And I feel like I am on track to start doing local tournaments by 2016. Who knew the heart was a better place to start any action! Yet it makes perfect sense. When the heart instructs the brain it feels so much more fluid. More later. Peace out.

P.S. the instructor’s name is Mike Flenniken. Every time I leave him I feel like Grasshopper in the old Kung Fu TV show. He really makes me think in a fresh non stressful non body mechanics way. Shazzamo ! Up up and away.

Song List: Sunday – Time Outta Mind

Had a decent day yesterday.  Went to the range with my PW and 7-iron.  Perfect crisp 70 degrees clear blue sky.  Just butter!

It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood

It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood

Took time to stretch – including my fingers and wrists.  With a bucket of 40 balls I’d say 50% had good flight path and fell within a respectable margin of target.  Another 15% were tugged left but hit far and straight.  Another 15% fade/sliced right.  A couple just shanked to the extreme right.  And a good 5-8% were like dead on.  Not too shabby.  I’ll take it for having just introduced a new swing adjustment.  Here’s a quick pass at the gory details for learning’s sake… thinking about it I did a lot better when I finally established the pre-swing routine and when I took less of a backswing but tried to focus on keeping my right elbow close to my right hip, focused on a full follow-thru AND trying to keep my left hand on or inside a line across my toes during the backswing.  I know, that last one sounds weird but that’s my attempt at trying to think my body to swinging inside-out.

What else did I do?

I made sure to swing thru and hold my finish until the ball landed.  I also followed GratefulG’s routine of starting to go thru a routine for each or almost each swing……

  1. stepping back,
  2. finding my line,
  3. finding a very precise target
  4. and then walking up and placing my clubbed down the line with my right hand and my feet together facing the target.

Then I move my left foot over until my left heel lines up with the golf ball and I step back with my right foot until I feel planted.

I was kinda making it up at first but then I got a rhythm going.  If it’s putting I can tell you I’ve got a real good routine for that since that’s much of what I practiced on this winter – but I decided I should try and make one up for irons.  So after set-up, I borrowed from my putting routine – I just stepped back to a parallel line and did 1-2-3 (sometimes 4-5) easy mini swings just to get a feel for when the leading edge would sweep the practice mat.  When I got it close to my left heel without chunking or digging but just swishy – usually that happens in the 1st or 2nd practice if I really just swing like it didn’t matter – I would step back up take one more gaze at my target and then swing with full intent to turn and hold a full finish.  I Don’t know – but it felt good towards the end of the bucket when my consistency started to dial-up.

Steely Dan - Gaucho

Steely Dan – Gaucho

And then – I went home – all jazzed at what I thought was respectable practicing session and ended up practicing my chip shot in the front yard with this new sturdy practice mat.  Work is still crazy but I’m happy I forced myself to get back into practice after a couple weeks off.

And here’s a song list of stuff I was listening to – just for grins…..

  • Time Out of Mind by Steely Dan on Gaucho
  • Sky High by Donald Byrd on Black Byrd
  • I.G.Y. by Donald Fagan on The Nightfly
  • Satellite by Günter on Ganging Up
  • Who Makes Your Money by Spoon on Transference

    Donald-Byrd-Black-Byrd

    Donald Byrd

  • Static Society by King Kooba on OM10 A Decade of Future Music
  • Optimistic by Tom Middleton on Lifetracks
  • III Street Blues by Moonrock on Café Del Mar Volume Series

00.+Tom+Middleton+-+Lifetracks+[FACTOR+19]_a

Spoon

Spoon