My Winter Golf Swing Tune Up: Part 1

The weather in Chicago has been absurdly nice for the past two weeks and it looks like our winter is over (fingers crossed) and Spring is here.  That means Golf season is officially here and it is time for me to get to work on my 2012 goals.  Normally this is the time of year when I go to the storage unit and get my clubs out, give them a good clean and head to the range.  This year is different though.  I never put my clubs away this year and I have been working on my game almost every day during winter in the hopes of starting this season ahead of where I finished last year and not playing catch up all summer.

Over the winter months I have been working with an instructor, Michael Thornburg (@thornyPGA) to get my game in shape.  I wish I could say that I went into this with a really solid base to build on and make quick improvements, but that was not the case.

My meetings with Mike started off with a real back to basics approach which I really liked.  In the past I wasn’t really a student of the swing.  I thought I understood what I was doing and what I could do to fix it, but like most amateurs I had no idea.  While I was focusing on one thing in my swing I had three other fundamental things wrong that were affecting my swing.  Mike broke it down for me and I think the best way for me to share everything I learned is if I go through it part by part.  I kept a journal throughout the process so that I wouldn’t forget what we talked about in the meetings and what homework he gave me after each meeting.  Here we go!

Part 1:

The first meeting with Mike can best be described as “back to basics.”  For me, it is probably more appropriate to call it an introduction to basics.  In total I hit maybe ten golf balls while I was there working with him.  I was expecting to hit a lot more balls and I think this is telling of how I look at my golf practice as a whole.

Mike broke down the basics of the swing into three sections to start: the impact position, the right arm and left arm.  His message to me was that if I can understand how to properly hit the ball from parallel to the target line on the back swing to parallel to the target line on the follow through the rest is easy (in his words just letting it go.)  We focused first on the right arm and then on the left arm and how they should feel and act during the swing.

My personal goal for this meeting was to get rid of the anxiety I have when I have to hit chips, pitches and short game shots in general.  In the past I have hit so many bad short game shots that I have come to expect them to be bad.  With that as a swing thought, it is no surprise that my short game is by far the worst part of my golf game.

I don’t think I fully accomplished the goal of getting rid of my short game anxiety simply because I didn’t hit a ton of balls.  What I did gain from the meeting was the foundation and knowledge for removing that anxiety.   I am beginning to understand how to hit proper golf shots instead of just hitting the golf ball.

What Mike had me do was hit a few warm up pitching wedges just to get loose.  Then he asked me to hit short chip shots and finish with my hands in front of the club head in front of my body.  I couldn’t do it.  I was flipping my hands and trying to do what I have always thought was releasing the club.  He kept trying to get me to lead with my hands and let the club just fall down the target line.  I really couldn’t do it and I was struggling.  I was starting to feel that same anxiety that I get when I have to hit a chip on the golf course.  I knew I couldn’t do it and it was embarrassing.  My muscle memory was so ingrained in the old way of hitting chips I felt as though my body was fighting me every step of the way.  I couldn’t keep the handle moving down the target line without flipping my hands and hitting bad chips.

Mike then put a shaft on the ground to simulate the target line.  He then gave me a shaft without a head on it and told me to take it back parallel to the target line and no further than that using only my right arm.  I was supposed to focus on fanning my right hand instead of breaking my wrist.  From here he wanted me to bring the shaft down the line trying to trace it along the shaft on the ground while keeping the angle of my right wrist on the handle.  His message was to keep the angle of the right wrist and the handle of the club consistent through the swing and trace the target line.

The whole point of this was to get me to feel how my hands should be leading the club down the target line and finish in front of the ball and club head.  I will be honest, this change felt weird and foreign to me.  It didn’t click at first because I have spent so many years swinging the club a different and incorrect way.

The drill he gave me was to take a shaft without a club head and try to fan my hand and take the club to parallel to the target line and no further.  From here I am trying to trace the club down the target line while maintaining the angle in my right wrist and the handle to keep my hands in front of the ball and the club head through impact.  I am supposed to replicate this move as much as possible in the next few weeks to start re-training my muscle memory that this is how my right arm should feel during the golf swing.

My education didn’t end there.  Mike also gave me some tips on how my left hand should feel through the swing.  The main point of this drill was to get me to feel how my left arm should feel with a proper release of the club instead of the flipping motion I had become accustomed to.

Again, I took the club in just my left hand and took it back to parallel to the target line and no further.  From here all I was trying to do was trace the target line and rotate my forearm and finish with my palm facing up and the end of the shaft pointing down the target line.

This felt weird and foreign at first because what I felt as a proper release prior was a flip of my hands and my left wrist pointed to the left through the follow through and the club went to the left of the target and not straight at it.

The drill I am supposed to be working on is to get comfortable enough with this move of releasing the club so that my palm faces up, my forearm rotates and the club points to the target and I can do this while generating speed.  When I am comfortable enough with this move I will start to generate speed in the drill and take the club back to parallel to the target line and just whip it through to the follow through position.

In conclusion, this meeting was focused on allowing me to understand the proper way that both my right and left arms should be acting during the swing and more importantly on the takeaway, at impact, through impact and in the release.  In order to commit these new fundamentals to my muscle memory I am committing myself to do 500 repetitions with my right arm and 500 repetitions with my left arm every day until my next meeting with Mike.  That will be a total of 3,000 repetitions on each arm by the next meeting.

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2 Comments to “My Winter Golf Swing Tune Up: Part 1”

  1. Jon,

    I commend you on your commitment to get the fundamentals right, and 500 reps a day sounds like a heckuva commitment! Do you do that in segments or all at once? Interested to know how long the 500 takes. Either way, your payoff is going to be handsome and please try to be patient with it especially if you’re playing during this period of learning. Reprogramming years of spaghetti code swing habits will take time so make sure you take comfort in the small nuggets of success as you go! Best of luck.

    Brian.

  2. It does take a fair amount of time and I try to break it up into segments throughout the day. I will do the majority of them (over half) during my workout during the day. I mix in stretching, lifting and cardio to break it up, but I am able to get all of that in during an hour workout. The rest I finish up at night at home and then repeat!

    I have seen some drastic improvements in my short game and ball contact all ready, but I am not going to focus on shooting any specific score until I play 5 to 8 rounds just to get back into the playing mode.

    Thanks for the comment and I like the countdown clock you have going on for your trip, very cool!

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