Archive for May, 2012

May 29, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 8

This meeting proved to be far less frustrating than my last.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating, it just means it was less frustrating.  We started working on chip shots and Mike was telling me that I wasn’t driving my right arm down and through the ball enough.  I was still letting my left hand take over and move through to my left instead of down and straight to the target.

Mike had me put my left hand in my pocket take the club back to parallel to the target line then hold it and when he told me too I drove my right arm to the ball.  I wasn’t getting it fully and I think it was because I was focusing on the club head and the ball.  As soon as I stopped fixating on actually hitting the ball I started to hit better chips.

I think this is a big key for me in every aspect of my game.  I work a lot on my swing without a ball in front of me.  As soon as I am actually trying to hit a golf ball my swing changes because I am worried about where the ball is going to go and how I am going to hit it.  I need to work on forgetting about the ball and the result and simply make a good swing.  I am getting better at it, but it is clear that once the ball is in front of me I get caught up in other things instead of just making a good swing.  I know this is largely mental, but I have been noticing it even more with the short game shots.

We moved on to hitting some 7 iron shots and I was getting better and generating some decent club head and ball speeds but not hitting it entirely solid.  Most of my hits were a bit fat.  Mike pointed out that I tend to shift my weight too far back to my right leg instead of over the ball and focusing on the instep of my right foot as the pressure point.  This is something I need to get comfortable with because when I do it correctly it feels like I am leaning forward towards the target when I am actually just staying over the ball.  It feels like I am doing my best stack and tilt impression, but I am really getting into a good position.

The other thing we worked on was getting the feeling of really releasing the club early in the down swing and fully through the ball.  Mike had me releasing the club so much that the back of my left hand was facing flat to my target.  I was also basically trying to “cast” the club out behind the ball and then turn through it.  I wasn’t actually casting the club, but that was the feeling I was going for in order to square the clubface at impact.  The funniest part about this whole process was how hard I was trying to hit the ball left and I barely could.  All of the moves were things I thought would send the ball to the left but I would either get the club face square and hit it somewhat straight or it would be a bit open and I would hit a fade.

My swing is feeling much better, but I still have a lot of work to do.  My biggest problem right now is letting my swing go and releasing it through the ball as well as getting the clubface square.  I am having a hard time getting it square because on the takeaway I am rotating my arms to the right which, paired with the gravity of the downswing, is keeping the clubface open.  I am working on a few drills to strengthen my release as well as tighten up my takeaway and I am confident I can get them better and start squaring the clubface.

The most frustrating part of this whole process is knowing what I should be doing and not having my body respond the way I want it to.  I am starting to understand everything Mike is telling me and I understand how the swing should feel, but it still doesn’t feel as natural as I would like it to and I still feel my body fighting old habits.  I know this will be an ongoing struggle with my golf game, but I am the kind of person who loses sleep over these things.  I want to fix it right now and today, not tomorrow and not next week.  I am staying patient and know I am going about this process the right way, but I every ounce of me wants to go to the driving range and hit 300 balls and figure it out.  I am resisting that urge and sticking to the drills Mike is giving me.

The last note I will add is that in order for me to get my takeaway tightened up I really need to focus on my grip pressure being lighter and generating the feeling that my takeaway is wide and outside the ball.  Right now I feel like it is straight back when it is really to the inside and rotated to the right.  I need to keep my left forearm straight and just bend my right elbow to create the hinge.  When I do this it feels like the clubface is always looking at the ball but it is really getting on plane perfectly.

There is an ongoing theme brewing of what my swing “feels” like and what my swing is actually doing.  In order to get my swing to do what I want it to I am trying to generate and create certain feelings.  I am trying to get away from the technical aspect of the swing and focusing on how it feels to me.  It is fun, frustrating and becoming an obsession.  I am loving every minute of it.

May 23, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 7

My last meeting was by far the most frustrating meeting I have had to date.  It was probably the most frustrated I have felt hitting golf balls all year actually.  I went into the meeting with all the confidence in the world that I had figured it out.  I felt as though my swing was perfect and I was ready to show it.  Man was I wrong.  Just like everything else in golf, as soon as you think you have it figured out the game humbles you.

After hitting my chips and pitches and a few adjustments from Mike I started hitting a few 7 irons.  I was trying to focus on my takeaway, a shorter backswing and clearing my hip while I was hitting balls.  The problem was that I was thinking way too much and my shots were only going about 130 yards on the trackman.  130 yards with a 7 iron isn’t going to get it done.  What the heck was going on?

I was getting really frustrated that I wasn’t hitting the ball well because I felt so comfortable with my swing and all the progress I had been making.  Mike basically stopped me and said he was going to force me to understand why.  He basically told me that I am thinking WAY too much and that I am hitting up on the ball instead of down on it.

This might be too complicated to write out, but he explained that my hips are the circle or horizontal rotation and those are fine, but my arms and the club need to swing in a straight line up from the ball and down into the ball then down the line and release.  Right now my arms are swinging on the horizontal plane and I am trying to lift the ball.  I could see it on the trackman stats.  I was hitting up on the ball at anywhere from 3 to 6 degrees.  Even when I tried my absolute hardest to just smash the ball into the ground it was hard to get a negative attack angle to show up on the screen.  I got one to show up at -6 but it felt extremely un-natural.  I was having a hard time putting the mental picture of hitting down on the ball and the ball going forward (straight) towards the target together.  I was seeing shanks in my head and pushes to the right when I was trying to hit “down” on the ball.  It was hard for me to square the club face largely because I was coming from the inside and not actually down on the ball.

It was beginning to make sense what Mike was trying to get me to understand.  Right now I swing the club around my body instead of up and down and allow my hips to bring it around my body.  I get what he is saying, but it is hard to actually do it.  Every time I try to compress the ball into the ground I shank it off the hossel because I am swinging the club from the inside instead of down into the ball.

He gave me a few drills to work on the points in my swing that are “check points” to make sure I am getting into the right positions, but I am really going to have to work hard to get over the mental block I have around hitting down on the ball.  I have way too many mechanical thoughts in my head right now and I need to get to a point where I take the club back and just release all of the energy into the ball and DOWN into the ball.  I want to feel more free-flowing with my swing instead of worrying about a ton of check points and mechanical thoughts.  I know this is a process and I am going to stay patient with the progress I am making and have made.  Hopefully the next meeting will prove to be a bit better.

May 21, 2012

I Gave Away My Best Round of the Summer

I went out and played this weekend and for some strange reason before I even got to the course I knew it was going to be a good day.  The night before I had good feelings about how I was going to play.  I hit the ball perfectly in my warm up.  I had zero anxiety on the first tee.  Everything just felt right.

I played stress free golf for the first seven holes of the day and had my best score to date going.  That is when I started thinking about my score.  As soon as I looked down at the scorecard and realized how well I was playing I started to feel nervous and anxious to see if I could keep it up for the rest of the round.

I got to the 7th tee which is a short par 4 that requires no more than a 5 iron to get into pitching wedge distance and I thought to myself, “I am playing this well, why not hit a driver and try to make a birdie?”  Man was I wrong.  The moment I pulled my driver out and deviated from my game plan and got away from how I know I should play the course I imploded.  I ended hitting my driver into a plugged lie in a bunker and left with a double.  Not the end of the world, but I was playing catch up the rest of the round.  I was no longer playing my game and it lead to bogey after bogey after bogey.

My best round of the summer quickly became my worst round of the summer just because I let myself get caught up in the score instead of the next shot.  I wish I could say lesson learned, but I know that this has happened to me before and I can’t seem to let myself get away from checking the score card.  I’m anxious to see what will happen in my next round and if I am able to put this big disappointment behind me quickly.  I certainly hope so.

May 14, 2012

Can Your Pre-Shot Routine Hurt You? Na!

I normally don’t like to weigh in too much on tour pros and their games because let’s be honest, they are 100 times better at golf than I will ever be.  What insight can a guy like me possibly have on someone like Kevin Na and his absurd pre-shot routine?

In this case I feel like I can actually add something to the conversation.  Watching Kevin Na over the ball it was hard not to feel his pain.  You could just see how badly he was struggling to feel any type of confidence in his ability to hit the shot he wanted.  It is crazy to think that a guy who had taken the 54 hole lead at the Players wasn’t confident in his ability to pull the trigger, but that was exactly what happened.  It works for guys like Jason Duffner who uses his waggle to calm himself down.  He is a bit of an anomaly since he doesn’t have a set number of waggles, but once he is comfortable he pulls the trigger and strikes the ball.  Na just never looks comfortable.

Some of the articles that have come out are ripping on Na for his slow play, but the poor guy doesn’t have the confidence to hit shots out on the PGA Tour and just handed over the Players Championship.  Don’t you think that is punishment enough?  I do.  He will either figure out his mental block or he probably won’t be on tour much longer.  I think the former.

As I have been working towards improving my own game, I can speak to the importance of a pre-shot routine you can trust.  I used to not have a pre-shot routine and I often wondered if my ball was going to go right, left or even get off the ground.  I decided to put a routine in place to try to build some confidence and consistency in my swing.  Needless to say it really helps.  I can feel myself using the pre-shot routine to channel positive thoughts regarding good shots I have hit in the past.  Before I had the routine I would often have thoughts of bad shots I had hit instead of good thoughts.  By sticking to the routine I know that I have hit good shots in the past and using the same routine makes me feel more confident that I can do it again.

Nowhere do I see this being more important than in putting.  I believe a large part of putting is being able to let go and trust your line, speed and stroke.  If you are worried about what is going to happen (aka the ball going in the hole) most of the time you won’t find the back of the hole.  The rounds where I have putted my best were the rounds that I picked out lines I trusted and focused on hitting solid putts at the right speed.  If I focus on those three things chances are a few putts are going to go down.  This is the mentality I have tried to bring to my full swing and so far I have seen some good results.  This isn’t the case with Na.  You can just see how worried he is over the ball of where he is going to hit it.  By worrying so much over the ball, especially in the last round, you could see the effect it took.

My point with all of this is, that if you don’t have a pre-shot routine you are comfortable with, spend some time and develop one.  Once you have one you like, stick with it.  Learn to trust it.  Find comfort in it and once you go through it pull the trigger and move on to your next shot.

May 9, 2012

Swing Changes and Speed Bumps

This winter I embarked on a mission to enhance the fundamentals of my swing.  I was sick and tired of wandering aimlessly through the world of high 80’s and 90’s golf.  My plan was to work with an instructor who was focused on the fundamentals of the swing.  Once a week I met with my instructor and we talked a lot about the golf swing and walked through some drills that would help me piece those fundamentals together bit by bit.  If you want to see my workouts and session notes you can see them here My Winter Swing Tune Up.

I didn’t hit a ton of golf balls during the sessions.  The sessions were more about getting a visual, understanding what I needed to do and then taking an assignment home to work on.  Again, at home, I didn’t hit a ton of balls because I was focusing on basic fundamentals.  I worked on my set up, grip, grip pressure, shoulder turn, hip turn, back swing, follow through, impact position etc.  All of this work was without hitting a ton of balls.  See a pattern emerging?

My update today comes out of a bit of frustration, but also out of a new understanding for what it takes to make a swing change.  I have played three times so far this season and have twice shot in the 100’s.  I haven’t shot a round in the 100’s for the past three years and I can’t tell you how frustrating it was.  It was frustrating because I have spent countless hours in the gym and in my apartment working on these new fundamental changes.  When i went to the course for the first time I was fired up to show off my new swing.  I knew how sound it was and I was confident I could put up a great score.  What happened?  I was lost on the course.  I didn’t know where my ball was going on each different swing.  I began to doubt the changes and started to fall back into old patterns just so I could get around the course.  Needless to say I was humbled.

After these two miserable rounds I went to the range.  Let me rephrase that, I went to the range A LOT.  There was no way that all of my winter work wasn’t going to pay off.  I re-read my notes and re-evaluated my rounds.  When I was at the range I could just feel how I wasn’t getting my club face closed at impact.  Everything else felt great, but why couldn’t I get the darn clubface closed?

I went through my check list:

1) Is my set up comfortable and solid?  Check

2) Is my alignment proper?  Check

3) Is my grip correct?  Check

4) Is my grip pressure correct?  Check

5) Is my takeaway correct (not rolling my left arm over)?  Check

6) Is my weight transfer correct?  Check

7) Is my transition smooth and not rushed?  Check minus (it could be smoother)

8) Are my arms staying connected to my body throughout the swing?  NO

There it was.  My left arm was clearly getting away from my body on the back swing and especially on the down swing.  This was making it impossible for me to close the club face at impact.  I started to focus on this as my swing key because everything else felt great.

The change was instantaneous.  When I kept my arms connected the club fell perfectly on plane and closed square at impact giving me a solid hit and a straight ball flight.  I even went back out to the course and validated it with a round back in the 80s with little to no effort.  I actually didn’t play great at all and easily put myself back in the 80s.  If I had gotten up and down a few more times my round would have been close to being in the 70s for the first time ever.  That was an encouraging thought for my third time out and after two rounds in the 100’s.

The entire point of my work this winter was to solidify the fundamentals of the swing into my muscle memory.  I think I have done a good job of that, but my initial speed bumps showed me that I need to stay persistent at checking that my fundamentals are in check and working properly.  Even if 7 of my 8 fundamental check points look good and one is off it can break down the entire swing.  It is encouraging to know that I am able to identify my speed bumps and fix them which I have never been able to do in the past.

Now all I need to do is clean up my short game rust and I will be on the road to my first 79!  Wish me luck.

May 7, 2012

My Winter Swing Tune Up – Part 6

Since my last meeting and chiropractor session I have been working on my flexibility and range of motion drills as well as my chipping motion.  When I got to my meeting, I hit a few chips and quickly progressed into longer pitch shots.

When I transitioned to the pitch shots I wasn’t hitting the ball all that great.  As soon as Mike told me to focus only on releasing my left hip and letting the club fall into place I started striking the ball much better.  This became a big key for me.  In the past I have really just swung the club with my arms and upper body and never focused enough on getting a proper turn on the back swing and a proper hip move to initiate the down swing.  Once I stared using that as my swing thought things started to come together.

After a few pitch shots and talk about range of motion Mike had me hit a few 9 irons.  A few things popped out at me once I started to hit some full 9 iron shots.  The first was, I was gripping it too hard and not focusing on my fundamentals.  There is something very strange about how quickly things go out the door once a small white ball is placed in front of you.  Second, I felt very comfortable over the ball.  I wasn’t that concerned that I was going to shank it or miss hit it as much as I had in the past.  Lastly, my balls were being left out to the right a lot.  Mike assured me that it was just bad contact and that my swing was actually looking pretty good.

The big takeaway from this session was actually my takeaway.  Since I have a tendency to swing with my arms I was taking the club back way too far to the inside by rolling my left forearm over to my right.  This caused me to really have to fight on the downswing to get the clubface back to square.  This was causing me to lose power and hit the ball out to the right.  I was also not clearing my hip to start the down swing, which was also keeping me from really releasing all of the stored up energy of the back swing into the ball.  Another thing I am trying to focus on is keeping my left arm connected to my chest throughout the swing.  If I am able to do this, I hit the ball great.  If I don’t and my left arm gets away from my chest I tend to hit it with an open club face or off the hossel.

Leaving the session, I was given homework to keep up with my range of motion exercises as well as to strictly focus on my takeaway.  If I can keep my left arm from rotating on the takeaway then I know all I have to do on my downswing is release my left hip and let the club release into the ball.  It feels much more natural this way and it doesn’t feel as though I am fighting my own swing.

The last thing I am focusing on is a shorter backswing.  My rotational limitations mean that I should really never let my hands get too far past my shoulder on the backswing.  This lets me store up the most energy, stay solid over the ball and keep my head still.  With these as my focus points I know that when I work with Mike again I will be hitting the ball much more solid and hopefully a bit straighter.