Watching my LA Kings' amazing march to the Stanley Cup this year was a revelation to me. Not about hockey nor the will of champions, but about the golf swing. I noticed that the hockey slap shot is quite similar to a full golf swing. The key is that a properly executed slapshot requires that the hands are slightly ahead of the puck at impact. This is the same principle that applies to the golf swing. It's no wonder that so many hockey players are great golfers, including Happy Gilmore!
They are so similar that I find it helpful to visualize a slap shot when I setup and swing a golf club. I imagine that the golf club is just a disproportionate hockey stick with a longer shaft and shorter blade. First, I picture that the leading edge of my golf club is the blade of a hockey stick and I align it square to the target. Second, I make sure that my hands are slightly ahead of the ball with the shaft leaning back to the ball like a slapshot. Lastly, I pretend that I'm Anže Kopitar blasting a slap shot past the goalie into the net for the win!
The golf swing is such a finicky thing. One day you may be striping the ball as pure as Adam Scott and the very next day you may be $hanking it like a rank beginner. WTF? Since the golf swing requires so much precision, the reason is often a breakdown of swing fundamentals. Even an infinitesimally small change can throw a monkey wrench into a golfer's swing. The fact that these changes are frequently unnoticed by the afflicted golfer in turn leads to disbelief and frustration.
I think that the most important, but also the most overlooked fundamental is the grip. I've already posted Butch Harmon's proper grip technique, but I recently came across another excellent video on the topic below. It covers some important elements that Butch does not. After viewing and fully understanding both of these videos, there's no excuse for not gripping the golf club correctly every time!
One of the things that fascinates golf viewers is the backspin that professionals can impart on the golf ball. Oohs and aahs are usually heard when a ball lands on the green, skips to a momentary stop, and then rolls back as if on a yo-yo string. Amateur golfers struggle to replicate this impressive feat largely because they don't know that there are several necessary conditions for it to happen. Here are some of the things to maximize your chances of spinning the ball back on the green:
Use a premium golf ball: The primary benefit of a premium ball over it's lower-cost brethren is that it is composed of multiple layers of different materials. The outermost layer is made of a soft yet durable material that is designed for maximum grip. This makes a premium ball spin much more with irons. A Top Flite rock just wont cut it. If you want to suck it back up on the green, you're going to have to suck it up and spend some green.
Use a high-lofted iron: The combination of high trajectory and high spin makes the ball spin back on the green. The higher, the more it will roll back. When it comes to golf clubs, the higher the loft, the higher the trajectory and higher the spin. It's simple physics.
Swing hard: The higher the swing speed, the higher the spin. Again, simple physics.
Make proper ball contact: With irons, the clubhead should make contact with the ball on the descending part of the swing path. This minimizes interference from grass and debris and maximizes spin.
Have a clean lie: When there is grass between the ball and the clubface, it becomes vaporized upon contact. This grass juice reduces the grip and consequently the backspin. This is why it is nearly impossible to back it up on the green from the rough. There's just too much grass getting between the ball and the clubface.
Have clean and deep grooves: Much like the grooves in tires channel away water to allow clean contact with the road, grooves in irons allow clean contact with the golf ball to maximize backspin. The greater the groove volume, the more grass juice it can whisk away. That's why it's important to clean grooves before every shot and play with the deepest and widest grooves allowed.
I played golf the other day with a guy who claimed to have just figured out golf. After struggling with this god-forsaken game for so long, I cautioned him to watch the words that sprang from his mouth. I explained to him that the purpose of golf was to drive us crazy. For some unknown reason, the Gods wanted to punish us mortals with an impossible to master game that would appear to be just the opposite. They called it golf and appointed the Golf Gods to maintain the game’s devilish deception. Anytime a mortal threatens to quit the game out of frustration, the Golf Gods will offer a tiny glimmer of hope to draw them back into the game. On the other hand, the Golf Gods are quick to strike down any golfer who becomes the least bit overconfident.
Dismissing my warning, my playing partner explained how he came to figure out golf. He said that he discovered the teachings of a golf instructor by the name of Geoff Jones who goes by the alias “Slicefixer” on the Internet. I was told to simply Google “Slicefixer” and all would be revealed.
Well I did, and I found a lot. Basically, Geoff was a teammate of Fred Couples on the University of Houston golf team. Geoff was an accomplished junior golfer who was the top dog in his hometown. But he soon realized that things were different in Houston after witnessing Freddie easily outdriving him to the tune of 50 yards. Geoff believed that he had to hit the ball farther to compete at the next level. Unfortunately, this quest for distance led him down a path of destruction that left his swing in complete disarray. He spent years to relearn the golf swing and return to his former glory. He has shared his findings for free in the SliceFixer’s Encyclopedia Texarkana.
Also, here's a video of Geoff's story and his concepts:
I have reviewed Geoff’s teachings and they sound valid to me. I plan on working on his concepts and hopefully they’ll get me closer to figuring out golf.
One of the most important moves in the golf swing is weight transfer. Not only is it a main source of power, but it also positions your body to strike the golf ball properly.
In the golf swing, it is critical to transfer your weight to the inner back leg on the backswing and then to the outer forward leg on the downswing. As all things in golf, it is easier said than done. Part of the reason for the difficulty is that the weight transfer is the result of a proper rotation or pivot around the body.
Here's a great video that explains how to transfer your weight correctly in your golf swing:
A couple of weeks ago, my golf swing went through a little rough patch where I was making poor ball contact with my longer irons. Having played this godforsaken sport for so long, I knew that it most likely had to do with something basic. Well it did. After double-checking all the basics, I discovered that my hand position had drifted from the ideal position. From a first-person perspective looking down at my club, my hands were just a little too far to the right (for a right-handed golfer). As a result, I was losing the critical hands ahead of the ball impact position to achieve proper ball contact.
Once I got my hands back to the proper setup position, good ball striking returned. Here's a good photo (except for the barrel distortion caused by the wide-angle lense) of the ideal positions for a 4-iron courtesy of Mr. Woods:
There are two positions from this photo that I try to replicate when I look down at my setup position:
1) Left hand covering the left knee - When I look down, I like to see my golf glove covering my left knee. This ensures that the hands are positioned slightly in front of the golf ball and not too far away from the body. The left foot and the golf grip should form a "V".
2) The golf shaft is angled back to the ball and the clubface is square to the target - This creates a bit of an angle between the shaft and clubface. Visually, think of a hockey stick. It is important to return to this position at impact. I like to imagine pulling the club into the ball as a simple swing thought to reinforce this crucial hands ahead of the ball impact position.
If ball-striking with your irons is poor, try this tip and see if it improves. Let me know if it does!
A good drill that I've come across to teach this action is the wrist watch drill advocated by David Leadbetter. It relies on the simple image of a wrist watch on your left wrist. Concentrate on maintaining the watch face facing toward the ground at impact. Leadbetter says, "To get the feel of this, practice making smooth half-swings holding the club with your left hand alone and swinging waist-high to waist-high. Focus on the face of your watch, trying to feel it going from looking at the sky from the top of your swing to looking toward the ground through impact."
Another simple drill that I like is to ungrip the right thumb and index finger (for a right-handed golfer) right before impact with the ball. This drill quiets the right hand and wrist so that they don't overpower that of the left. I have found it to be very effective in preventing the dreaded wrist "flip" or "scoop." Remember, scooping is for ice cream, not golf.
In the January 2008 issue of Golf Magazine, Charlie King wrote an instructional article titled, "The Easy Way to Add 20 Yards." What caught my eye was a table of data that showed driving distances of varying clubhead speeds and angles of attack with the driver:
At all clubhead speeds, the maximum driving distance was achieved with a positive angle of attack. In other words, hitting up with the driver produced the longest drives! This is contrary to the proper technique to hit irons and fairway woods where the clubhead should impact the ball with a descending blow or "Hit Down on the Ball".
Optimizing driving distance is a question of high ball speed, high launch angle and low spin rate. But you can, in general, not increase your launch angle without also increasing the spin rate. So the fundamental question was: What determines what spin rate/launch angle combination can be obtained? It turns out that for a well hit shot, attack angle is the primary parameter dictating what combinations of launch angle /spin rate are obtainable for a given player.
Attack angle is the primary parameter telling you why you obtain certain combinations of launch angle and spin rate – it is even more important than the club head speed! Also, the attack angle is related almost solely to your golf swing and not equipment related, which means it is something you, as a golfer, can change – it is pure technique!
Players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Charles Howell III are all players who often swing with significant, negative attack angles. However, common for this group of players is their very high club and ball speeds, so they fly the ball pretty far despite their negative attack angle – they do not really have a distance problem! However, if they increased their attack angle they could hit the ball 30-40 yards further. But apparently they have deliberately chosen not to do this.
My favorite part of golf is hitting irons. There's no better feeling than hitting that pured iron shot. I can spend all day at the range without hitting a wood and be perfectly content. Irons are the surgical instruments of golf. In the right hands, they can place a ball within 10 feet of a hole from 2 football fields away. If you think about it, that's pretty amazing. The U.S. military would love to have a weapon that accurate!
But mastering the irons is much easier said than done. To understand the concept of hitting irons properly, you must throw logic out of the window. Like most things in golf, your common sense will lead you down the wrong path. Most people look at a pitching wedge and assume that to get the ball in the air one must somehow get the club under the ball and hit it with an upward blow. In other words, people see the clubface and assume that the club must impact the ball perpendicular to its the loft. This is incorrect and the reason that most people have difficulty with irons.
In reality, an iron launches the ball into the air because it imparts massive amounts of backspin. This backspin combined with the dimples on the golf ball creates lift, known as the Magnus force. As a result, the spin rate directly influences how high the ball flies.
To impart this necessary backspin, the clubhead must impact the ball with a descending blow. The swing advice, "hit down on the ball" is meant to convey this concept concisely. However, I find that this term can be somewhat misleading because it implies that the clubhead should impact the ball on a very steep angle. Better ball-striking will result from a shallow or slightly downward approach into the ball. Once I understood this concept, it truly was a golf epiphany. The key is to re-wire your brain.
It is truly a key position for proper ball-striking. Equally as important, if not more important, is the fundamental action that produces this key position.
It is a wrist/forearm motion known as supination. Ben Hogan emphasized that through impact, the left wrist and the back of the left hand (of a right-handed golfer) should gradually supinate. In other words, they rotate from nearly a palm-down position toward more of a palm-up position coming into the ball. At impact, the back of the left hand faces toward the target and the knuckles of the left hand should face the ground.
In addition, the left wrist should be flat or bowed through impact. In the April 1956 issue of Golf Digest, Hogan wrote, "I've noticed one thing that all good golfers do and all bad golfers do not. The good ones have their left wrist leading at impact. It seems a small thing, but I've found it to be universally true. At impact the left wrist of a good player is slightly convex, while that of a poor player is generally concave."
This is all easier said than done. Proper supination with a flat or bowed left wrist is an advanced concept and one that it very difficult for the average golfer to learn. The vast majority of golfers instinctively flip their left wrists forward through impact believing that such an action will produce the optimal results: maximum distance and trajectory. Unfortunately, this couldn't be any farther from the truth. As with most things in golf, intuition must be thrown out the window. Instead, think of rotating your left wrist without breaking it.
Supination is probably the single most important action in the proper golf swing. Unfortunately, it is also probably the least understood. If you are a golfer and have never heard of "supination" before, you owe it to yourself to fully understand this concept and ensure that it is a part of your swing. If you need hands-on assistance, your friendly neighborhood PGA teaching professional is your best bet. In the meantime, check out this helpful tip on supination. Also, here's a good reference for all the wrist actions in the golf swing: The 6 Actions of the Wrists and Forearms.
When I first started playing golf, there were no grass driving ranges in my area. By default, I was forced to practice on artificial grass range mats. Not knowing any better, I believed that they were just as good as the real thing. Boy was I wrong. Indeed, I became pretty proficient hitting golf balls off padded Astro Turf. But that's a lot like saying you can fly a plane well after only piloting a video flight simulator.
While hitting a teed ball off range mats doesn't pose a problem, hitting unteed balls off range mats can adversely affect your swing. The main problem with range mats is that they don't allow you to take divots. When an iron impacts real grass, it digs in and scoops out a chunk of turf leaving the so-called divot. When this happens in relation to contact with the golf ball is all the difference with iron ball-striking. When hit properly, the iron contacts the ball before it impacts with the turf. If the iron hits the turf before the ball, the turf will interfere with the iron on ball contact resulting in the so-called "fat" shot. Besides the dreaded shank, the fat shot is the ugliest shot in golf. Laying sod is for landscaping your yard, not for hitting a golf ball.
Practicing on real turf gives you the necessary feedback to learn proper iron ball-striking. Hit a fat shot on real turf, and the ball behaves just like it does on the golf course - it goes nowhere. The beauty is knowing that you must have done something incorrectly to produce such a poor result. However, a fat shot on a range mat will likely produce a somewhat acceptable result. How do you improve if you don't know when you are doing something wrong?
Another problem with range mats is that they are unyielding to the impact from a properly struck iron. As a result, golfers may try to minimize contact with the mat, adversely affecting their swing. I certainly felt that extensive practice on range mats caused me to develop an overly shallow swing and become a "picker" of the golf ball. In other words, I was hitting the golf ball without taking a divot whatsoever.
While I don't think that there's anything significantly wrong with being a "picker", the margin for error is much less for a picker. Strike the ball one or two grooves lower than normal on the clubface, and a picker will hit it thin. A steeper swing will forgive such faults.
Lastly, the firmness of mats may actually start to alter your clubs! If you have soft, forged irons, the constant pounding against a range mat could bend the club's lie angle. Be sure to have the lie angles of your forged irons checked if you've been hitting off a mat.
Thankfully my local course now has a full-time 100% real grass driving range. I realize that my extensive practice on range mats was not only largely fruitless, but also detrimental. I now refuse to practice on range mats, using them only to warm-up before a round in the absence of a grass range. As Cheech and Chong might say, "there's just no substitute for real grass."
So you already know how to achieve the proper golf grip, ball position, and learned that rap lyrics hold the key to golf. All of this doesn't mean Jack if you can't set up to the ball correctly. According to Jack, "If your setup at address is sound, there's a good chance you'll hit a reasonably good shot, even if you make a so-so swing. If you set up poorly, you'll hit a bad shot even if you make a perfect swing. Pay attention to the pre-swing fundamentals!"
Truer words were never spoken. You just can't overemphasize the importance of proper setup positions as the foundation for a solid and repeatable golf swing.
So just what is the proper setup? There are just so many elements to it that it just can't be conveyed in words. I think that the best way to achieve the proper setup positions is to understand the main elements by viewing pictures of the correct positions. Once you understand them, you should try to attain them in your setup. Next, you need to check your setup positions, ideally from a knowledgeable person, or from a mirror.
Brady Riggs, a Class A PGA Professional, has collected setup positions and swing sequences of some of the best players in the world. His Redgoat Swing Fundamentals Galleries are a must visit for a visual understanding of the proper setup. Brady's website alone has improved my game tremendously. I've been so impressed with his work, both on his website and as Senior Instruction Editor for Golf Tips Magazine, that I've even inquired about taking private lessons with him. According to his website, "Brady loves students that are stubborn, argumentative, challenging, and demanding...Oh, and by the way, learning the game should be fun, and often times funny." I've never met him, but I just know that he's my kind of guy.
P.S. It appears that Brady has recently required a password to access his photo galleries. Try emailing him for the password. Believe me, it's worth it! In the meantime, be sure to check out the Tiger Woods setup as seen through the "Eye of the Tiger"!
As I have stressed before, proper golf fundamentals are the key to a solid and repeatable golf swing. I've already covered the golf grip, and now I'd like to address ball position. There are a couple of different teachings in this area and I've experimented with most of them. The one that has worked the best for me is the Jack Nicklaus method of ball position.
According to Jack, "I play every standard shot with the ball in the same position relative to my feet. That position is opposite my left heel."
...ball position is very, very important. That's why I like you to think of a constant ball position. Always position the ball off the logo on your shirt. If you don't have a logo on your shirt, position the ball in line with your left breast. The only thing that changes is the width of your stance - - where your right foot widens out farther the longer the shaft of the club gets.
If you think about it, if I was hitting a wedge shot, it would look like the ball was pretty much in the middle of my stance. Yet, if I was hitting a driver, you would have thought that I moved the ball way up in my stance. But really nothing has changed. All I've done is widen my stance out for the different clubs. This means that my alignment stays the same and my shoulders stay square the target line...
I used to try to play everything from the center of my stance, but the constant ball position method worked much better for me. In fact, it is the preferred method amongst professional golfers. According to studies done by ModelGolf, tour players actually do move the ball in relation to the front foot from the 2-iron to the 9-iron, but the movement is so small that, for all practical purposes, the ball position in relation to the front foot remains almost constant.
Remember, ball position off the left heel doesn't necessarily mean forward in the stance. As you use longer clubs, your stance widens, so the ball moves progressively forward in the stance. Conversely, as you use shorter clubs, the ball moves progressively back in the stance. For example, ball placement for a PW would appear near the center of the stance because the stance is so narrow (and sometimes open).
Here are some pics of David Leadbetter and Nick Price demonstrating the ball positioned off the left heel with varying stance widths. Notice in the large picture that Leadbetter is actually holding a club right where Butch recommends that you position the ball - in line with the logo on your shirt!
This picture captures Nick Price's ball position with a 9-iron: Here's his position with a 3-iron: Notice in each case, Nick's ball position is approximately the same distance away from the left heel. This is very similar to Tiger Woods' ball position.
How does this compare to your ball position? If you are having problems with your ball-striking, it could be simply a flaw in your ball position. Try the constant ball position method as it could yield amazing results for you!
As I was flipping channels the other day, something on Rap City, the BET music video show, caught my attention. It was more than just the usual booty shaking, Cristal popping, bling flossing, and pimped-out whips on 20" dubs. I became entranced with the lyrics from Terror Squad's rap video, "Lean Back." As strange as it sounds, I realized that this song secretly contains one of the keys to the golf swing in its catchy chorus:
"I said my #!&&@$ don't dance,
We just pull up our pants and,
Do the Roc-away.
Now lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..."
No, it's not in the dance, the pants or even the "Roc-away." The key to the golf swing is to "lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..." If you look at the swings of the best golfers in the world, you'll notice this recurring theme. Whether it's a one or two-plane swing, weak or strong grip, quick or slow swing tempo they all share one common trait: at impact, the hands are always ahead of the clubhead. In other words, the shaft always leans back to the ball at impact. This is a very important fact to remember as I believe that it is the key to proper ball-striking. If there were ever a "secret to golf" or the "key to the golf swing" I truly believe that this is it.
I advise every golfer to read this Golf Digest article by Tom Ness for drills to ingrain this impact position. According to Mr. Ness, "The act of trying to get the clubhead moving faster - by throwing or flipping it toward the ball - is the single biggest source of frustration in the game...Poor players let the clubhead pass the front arm before impact. In fact, there's a direct correlation between when the shaft catches up to the lead arm and handicap. The later it catches up, the lower the handicap. It's really that simple."
Your wrist positions at impact are key to achieving ball-striking nirvana. In particular, the lead wrist (the left wrist for a right-handed golfer) must not break through impact. Instead, the lead wrist needs to supinate. Mr. Ness notes, "A good player's leading wrist is flat and the trailing wrist is bent." A mental image that I like to envision to help me achieve this impact position is painting with a brush. When you paint with a brush, you always lead with your hand, with the brush trailing behind, correct? I imagine that my club is a long paintbrush and I'm painting the ground. Another image that might do the trick is to imagine that the club is a broom and that you are sweeping the ground with the broomhead trailing your hands.
Do yourself a favor and videotape your golf swing. Your impact position should look similar to this SwingVision photo of Tiger hitting an iron. If it's not, you will improve your ball-striking astronomically if you work on achieving this impact position each and every time. I would personally guarantee it, but my attorney advises otherwise.
So the next time you're out on the golf course, think of this little rap to improve your ball striking:
"I said my caddies don't lie,
We just let the ball fly and,
Swing the shaft away...
To lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back..."
The first time someone told me to use a strong grip, I gripped the club so hard I almost ripped my glove open.
"No, you idiot," this person told me. "A strong grip means you turn your grip towards the right (for a right-handed golfer)."
"Why the hell is that called a 'strong grip'?"
"I don't know, but it is."
To this day, I still don't know why it's called a strong grip. But whatever the reason, I've learned that a strong grip allows your wrists to hinge properly and squares up the clubface at impact. This is essential to hitting the ball straight with the most distance.
The great Ben Hogan wrote in Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, "Good golf begins with a good grip...The grip is the heartbeat of the golf swing." I agree with Mr. Hogan and I believe that a proper grip (strong to neutral) is probably the most important fundamental in golf. However, it is also one of the most neglected and ignored, especially over an extended period of inactivity such as the golf off-season. Now that the golf season is finally in full swing around the country, it's important for golfers to pay special attention to their grip as they start playing golf again.
Butch Harmon, the #1 instructor in the world, wrote an article in Golf Digest several months ago about an easy method to achieve the proper grip each and every time. According to Butch, "Always establish your left-hand grip with the club positioned outside your left thigh, your left arm hanging naturally from your shoulder. See how my left hand is turned inward a bit? That’s how nature intended it. All you do now is close your left hand on the club. As for the right hand, it simply joins the left as you move the club in front of your body in preparation for hitting the shot." I would also emphasize that the right hand should be placed on the grip from the side, rather than the top and that the right hand grip should be more along the fingers.
Since I have a tendency to revert to a weak grip, I found Butch's method extremely valuable. It's fast and very easy to do, and I have even integrated it into my pre-shot routine. I recommend that all golfers give Butch's grip drill a try, especially those who have problems with a slice or generating adequate distance. It's amazing how something as simple as the grip can be the solution to many golfers' swing woes.
Here's a video of the man himself showing you how it's done:
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