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.

Sit Up Straight & Improve Your Swing

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.

Chair_KellyMiller_Post

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.

frisbee3

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.

school desks_feliphe-schiarolli

Photos provided by UnSplash photographers, Kelly Miller “Chair” & Feliphe Schiaroli “Classroom”

 

Top Golf – Really?

I guess I must be living under A rock but this beloved sport is now a happy hour novelty where people can rent out skyboxes and wack away while watching TV and drinking and stuff.

I guess it’ll be good for the sport but something in my head keeps saying this is wrong and goes against the whole purpose of the game- but what do I know?

TOPGOLF. Google it if you haven’t heard of it yet. 

https://topgolf.com/assets/uploads/gallery/atlanta/bays-topgolf-atlanta-midtown-01.jpg

1 Week Later and It’s GO Time

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.

SVgolfer_out.

 

 

Back to The Future 2017 – Part II

This is what I wrote on January 04, 2017:

starttrek

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.

pastLast 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. overlap1

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.

drivingrange-2There 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:  now

  • 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.  touchdown

I’m Back to the Future and I’m headed back to the golf course! 

Svgolfer – signing out.

Back to The Future 2017 – Part I

Back to the Future and Why a Short Memory Is a Good Thing for Golfers & Start-Up Innovators

Many times I hear a sports commentator reflect on the mental game of a good quarterback, basketball player or golfer and they’ll say something like, “He has a short memory and that’s something that serves him well.” They’ll continue and say something like “You know he’s gonna fire that touchdown in there if he’s given a chance. He’s always thinking about the next down, the next play…. and doesn’t let bad passes, turnovers or interceptions throw him – You just can’t teach that stuff!!” football-pass

Confidence and the ability to ‘get ‘er done,’ comes from constantly looking forward and letting the history a mistake or a bad decision or a lapse in performance be exactly that – history. 20/20 hindsight often offers little except stoked fires of regret, resentment and self-degradation.

I think this viewpoint also applies to my journey of  trying to get to a point of comfort playing golf. A journey that’s always exacerbated by the time commitments of working overtime in the grueling new technology economy that’s fast-paced and where often the phrase ‘everything is new and has never been done before,’ stands as the crucible of what it means to be a worker in Silicon Valley. And that applies to start-up founders as well as your run of the mill everyday employee. I’ve had the luxury of being both.

EW20th_infographic_FINALThis experiment called Silicon Valley is quite amazing if you stop and think about it. Even though there are many huge billion dollar companies in the Bay Area – many of them are no more than twenty years old and that includes household names like Google, Apply and Amazon. Old-timers like Intel and Oracle are only twice as old thereabouts. Nothing here resembles the lifestyle, workstyle or pace of change found in more traditional last- century economies.  And even behemoths like Intel are still relative newborns compared to most old-economy companies. The parlance around here often refers to ‘lava formation’ as the state-of-creation that makes up everyday life and the challenges inherit in learning how to build stuff that’s never been created before – to do something new, to learn new techniques, to improve on what’s been built and to look for that proverbial touchdown after making a series of mistakes – and failure and mistakes run a plenty in this former land of “Heavenly Delight.’ We just don’t ever hear about them.

Which brings me back to my golf game. And a recent bout of retrospection I ended up grappling with over the holidays. I’ve spent some time musing over all the things I had planned to do in 2016. This was triggered by an innocent question from my daughter while on vacation. “Dad?” She asked “did you play that tournament last year like you said you would Dad?” She added “You know, you’ll never get better if you don’t practice.”

I was going to do so many things last year. I was going to be so discplined and get to the golf course and practice aspects of my swing and stance and grip while at home. I was going to get home training equipment. I was going to practice with a net in the front yard. I would get an instructor. I would play at least once a month and my crowning achievement would be playing in a tournament – any tournament! I hardly accomplished anyone of these goals – in fact, I hardly accomplished anything the more I looked backwards. My mental judger started issuing proclamations. What a loser I am. I’m never going to get anywhere. I’ve wasted so much time. Why should I bother? Making resolutions is a pointless thing to do.

Thinking about making commitments for this year became harder and harder. And then something changed. I decided to focus on the present and realized how what I decided to focus on NOW could make all the difference in how I would feel one year from now and beyond. There’s nothing I can do about yesterday but I still can impact tomorrow by doing something now. One day maybe I will be a 65 year old Unicorn tearing it up in some senior tournament – who knows? But I won’t get anywhere worrying and feeling down about the past. My biggest challenge wasn’t to figure out where I went wrong but to make a decision to re-commit today. And I thought about the sports commentators. The difference between success and failure starts in the mind. Deciding to try again isn’t really that hard a decision to make. And after much trepidation, I did.

….continued in Part II