The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today, I am going to finish up this series of conflicting viewpoints  in certain aspects of golf instruction.  In future posts I will give my opinion on some of these ideas on golf instruction, depending if you are just beginning to learn the game or if you are a single digit handicapper.  I will also discuss the things, or maybe its just one thing that all golf instructors agree upon, and at least one thing that they may be obsessed with.  Now let’s finish this thing up.

You should change your grip to help square the club face up, or you keep the grip the same and correct the swing flaw that is making you slice or hook the ball. The main proponent of changing your grip to help square the clubhead was the famous British instructor John Jacobs.  The theory goes that if you are slicing the ball, you should turn your hands slightly to the right and you will see more of the knuckles of your left hand as you look down the shaft.  If you are hooking too much, you turn your hands slightly to the left and you will see less knuckles of the left hand.  This should produce straighter shots.  The majority of instructors feel that the grip should be a neutral or natural grip where the hands are positioned on the club in a similar manner, as they would be hanging down by your side. In their view, slicing and hooking is a swing problem only, and the grip should never be changed.

Hand position at address in relationship to the ball.  The traditional viewpoint is your hands should be slightly behind the ball at the address  position for the drive and then get ahead of the ball as the clubs get shorter.  Sometimes this detail is even ignored in some golf instruction.  Some people feel the hands should be about even with the ball for all shots.

What is the head doing during the golf swing, besides thinking why I am I playing this stupid game.   Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer both felt that the head should remain as still as possible during the golf swing.  In fact there is the famous story of Nicklaus’s instructor Jack Grout, holding on to Jack’s hair as he swung, so he would have minimal head movement during the swing. In the more modern swing it is shown that the head has a distinct downward move during the downswing.  In some  swings there is a definite movement to the right on the backswing. Curtis Strange had this move on his backswing, which is the influence of Jimmy Ballard.  On a lot of swings and preswings there is a definite rotation of the head to the  right which gives the appearance that the golfer is looking at the ball with only the left eye. Videos of today do show that Nicklaus and Palmer moved their head more than they thought they did, but they did not move their head as much as Tiger Woods or V. J. Singh do on  their swings. Some people feel that by trying to keep your head still during the swing creates too much tension to swing freely. Again we have a lot of conflicting viewpoints.

Lastly I have to mention Natural Golf. Their poster boy is Moe Norman, who is considered one of the greatest ball strikers of all time. I read Norman’s biography and he was an interesting character, to say the least. Even in his biography, it’s a little unclear what came first, Natural Golf or Moe Norman.  I think it was a mutually beneficial partnership, that probably compromised both methods to sell a few books.  I am not going to go through the Natural Golf Method, you can easily look it up, but I think it is about as unnatural as you can get to try and hit a golf ball.  It is a very distinct way on how to try and hit a golf ball.  I have played a lot of golf in my lifetime and I must say, I have never met anybody that played golf this way.   I would like to  see if I changed my mind about the method, if I saw it up close and personal.

So there you have it.   Conflicting golf instruction that you can find on the internet or when given a personal lesson.  So it goes back to one of my original questions, is everybody right or everybody wrong?  For something that only takes about 1 to 2 seconds to complete there are more opinions on how to do it than there on ways to fix the national debt, and I think that is just slightly more complicated. The next blog, I am going to  focus on things that all golf instruction seems to agree upon, but does even that make it right.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

After a brief res-pet from blogging for a trip to see the Grand kids in San Diego back with another in a series of instructional conflicts. Yes, I am going to comment briefly on the Lexi Thompson incident.  This blog is going to concern itself with chipping. The two points of view.  You should chip like you putt, or you should not chip like you putt. First we need to define a chip, which to some, has changed.  In Utley’s book on the short game he has his own definition of a chip, which I am going to ignore. My definition is that a chip is a shot with little or no wrist action.  In other words,the chip has nothing to do with distance. You could chip a ball 5 yards or you can chip it 40 yards or longer.  A pitch by my definition is a shot where the wrists will cock from 45 to 90 degrees.  Again you could pitch a ball 5 yards or you can pitch it 40 yards or longer. This post is going to discuss only chipping

The first view point is, you should chip like you putt. Since there is little wrist action in both chipping and putting this would seem to make a lot of sense. However, the clubs, ranging from anywhere from a 4 iron to a lob wedge, that are used for chipping, have nothing in common, in design,  with the putter. There is going to be some adjustments, you are going to have to make. The first, you must make sure the bottom edge of the club is square. This  will put your hands ahead of the club, sometimes as much as 6 inches if you are using the lob wedge. A lot of instructors advocate using the same grip you use for putting, to execute these shots.  The weight should be on the left foot a little more. Even though you are using your putting stroke to execute these shots, they still must be hit with a descending blow and not swept along the ground. You must have a good lie to execute a chip.  With any method you can not chip from the rough with the ball down a little in the grass.

Some instructors feel you should not chip like you putt. The leaders in this group are Phil Mickelson and Stan Utley. Mickelson has his hinge and hold method and Utley tries to get his hands leading the club head on his chips to deloft the club. You can read or watch their videos to get more details on their respective methods.  There are other instructors who have a more handsy   approach to chipping.

Now to the Lexi Thompson debacle. The one thing that has got lost in the shuffle is the second penalty that was accessed for the incorrect scorecard. She may have been done in by the new rule change this year on signing for a lower score than you actually made. The LPGA should have  never assessed her that 2 stroke penalty, and they had the perfect precedent of the Tiger Woods incident 2 or 3 years ago at the Masters. After Tiger’s ball hit the pin and went into the water on 15, he dropped the ball in an improper spot. The next day he was charged a two stroke penalty, but was not disqualified for the incorrect score card on the technicality that at the time he signed it, the score was correct. If the disqualification rule would have still been in effect this year, do you think the LPGA would have walked up on that tee box and disqualified Lexi Thompson, no way.  I am sure the Tiger incident would have been cited. Because now it is a 2 stroke penalty, they in my view went ahead and  penalized her those 2 strokes incorrectly.  Technically, and its all technicalities, she signed a correct score card when she signed it, just like Tiger Woods. Obviously with only a 2 stroke penalty she would have won the tournament out right and there would have been no play off. Shame on you LPGA.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today, I am going to discussed three aspects of the golf swing with various viewpoints.  The take away, the top of the swing, and the start of the downswing. The last one will just be fun because how to start the downswing is pretty much endless, but we will list the main ones. Most of what I am going to post today will involve some of Jack Nicklaus’s opinions on the golf swing.  I am not saying I agree  with everything that Jack says about the swing, but I don’t think you can go wrong by adopting many of his swing suggestions. However, in the main stream of golf instruction most of the things that Jack advocates is pretty much dismissed, as not the way to play golf.   I am not going into great detail, here but I think the reason for this is Jack made conventional golf instruction look pretty silly with his so called flying right elbow.  He took a lot of flak for that early in his career, to the point that many said he would never be a great golfer. Talk about being very wrong. Let’s begin.

The take away should be low and slow, or is that the worse thing that you can do?  Nicklaus was a low and slow advocate and his own backswing did seem to start in a very deliberate manner. Today most instruction says to start the backswing smoothly in a more rhythmic manner and do not start the swing in a jerky manner. Instruction today feels that you can start the backswing too slowly, which robs you of any rhythm and timing, and makes you rush the rest of your swing. Try either method you may find you like one over the other.

At the top of the swing, should you make a conscious pause, or is this something that you do not have to think about. Trying to pause at the top will cause more problems with your swing.  Nicklaus summed up his feelings on the subject with an instructional chapter titled”There is no pause that refreshes in the golf swing,” taking a slogan from a popular soft drink. In order for the club to change direction in the golf swing it has to stop or pause or whatever you want to say, whether you think about it or not. There is no question that you can see differences in this pause at the top. Some Tour players have a very distinct pause at the top of their backswing, and others with very fast swings, it is very hard to detect. There are players everywhere between these two extremes.  Pick your poison, you may find something your like.

Now for the fun part, How do you start the downswing. OMG are you kidding me. The first one is the Nicklaus method. Obviously you have to lift your heel on the backswing. The rest are just listed but these are all from legitimate instructors.

Plant your left heel on the ground, turn your right knee to the ball, drop your right elbow slowly into your side, bump your left hip toward the target, shift your weight to the outside of the left heel(this is for the heel that stays on the ground during the backswing), raise your left shoulder from under your chin, drive the left hip back and begin straightening your left leg, pull down with the last three fingers of the left hand like you would be ringing a church bell, drive the left knee toward the target, while remaining the flex in the knee, and only allowing it to straighten well after the ball is struck, and finally slowly dropping the arms while allowing the hips to unwind. This list has 10 ways to start the  downswing, and people say that golf instruction is confusing, you have got to be kidding, what could be more clear then that. The list is not even complete but I think the point is made. So what’s a mother to do?  My suggestion for now is try em all, you may find one that really fits your swing and can help you hit the ball better.  It looks like we are going to have winter in March, so another blog on the swing won’t be far behind, as we are getting close to the end of conflicting ideas on how to hit a golf ball.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today’s post will be slightly different, in that I am going to cover three aspects of the golf swing, that have conflicting viewpoints, plus I am going to put in my two cents worth on the subject.  I am going to look at hip turn, shoulder turn, and the backswing, which are so interconnected that it would be difficult to discuss one without getting involved with the other. First, the various viewpoints on each aspect.  You should restrict your hip turn or you should not restrict your hip turn.   You should turn your shoulders at least 90 degrees or you do not have to turn the shoulders 90 degrees.  You should keep your backswing compact and avoid over swinging, or you should make a nice long backswing, which will give you plenty of time to accelerate the club and keep your swing very smooth.

So in order to start the discussion, one has to start out with the famous X factor of Jim Mclean’s, which started this whole mess.  The X factor states that the more you can turn your shoulders, without turning your hips, the farther you will hit the ball, plain and simple.  The standard difference between you hip and shoulder turn is about 50%  You turn your shoulders 90 degrees, your hips should turn about 45 degrees.   According to the X factor,  if you could make that 90 degree shoulder turn with only 35 degree hip turn, then you would increase your distance.  If you can make a greater than 90 degree shoulder turn, with less than 45 degree hip turn you would  hit the ball even further. Is this true? It is absolutely true. Should you swing a golf club like this? Absolutely not is the correct answer. If you want to play golf past your 50th birthday then this is not the way to swing a golf club. Watch Greg Norman’s swing  in the late 80’s and the early to mid nineties. He had minimal hip turn and maximum shoulder turn. Played very little golf after age 45. Same thing can be said about Tiger.This swing is so hard on your body you will see more and more of the modern player fall by the way side.So many of todays players swing this way, that you can bet not many of them will be playing on the senior tour.     It is no coincidence that Phil and V.J. who have larger hip turns have played great golf well past their 45th birthday.

Now let’s move to the shoulders where there is another swing method call the limited shoulder turn golf swing by Don Trahan. This swing is easy on your body and depends more on a vertical lift of the arms with the shoulders probably turning about 70 degrees. I don’t have a lot of problem with the theory here but this swing is harder to time than what Mr Trahan would lead you to believe. It is way too specific in making certain moves in the golf swing. At least this swing won’t put you in traction.

Finally, should your backswing be compact or should it be longer and no worry about “over swinging”.  I think this is a personal preference, but which ever way you decide to go there is one key factor. .If you decide to take a more compact swing then your tempo should be rather quick. If you are going to take a longer backswing then you should have a slower more languid tempo.  A slower short swing and a fast long swing just will not work.

My take on all of  this is very simple.  At the top of the backswing, the top part of your back or shoulder blades if you prefer, should be facing the target. I don’t care how you get there to do it. The thing that makes your swing compact or long is the arms, and how much the wrists cock.  The golf swing is a turn and the only thing that should limit the turn, is your physical capabilities. So if you have to turn those hips to get that back to face the target,  go right ahead. Do you think  Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus did all right with a big hip turn? Next post will be should you start the swing low and slow or is low and slow the worst thing you can do?

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today’s post is about where your weight should be distributed at the address position of the golf swing.  We are not talking about between the right and left foot, but where on the bottom of your feet.  Again, there is more than one theory  in golf instruction. There are three ways that are advocated: 1. The weight should be on the balls of your feet at address. 2. The weight should feel like it is over the arches of the foot or just in front of the ankles. 3. The weight should be on the heels or towards the heels of your feet.  There is only one thing that everyone is in agreement. Your weight should not be on your toes.  One thing that you should be able to do at address is wiggle your toes.  So now look at each one.

The proponents of having your weight on the balls of your feet like to say that this gets you into an athletic position and gets you ready to move and gives  your body a lively feel. This is by far the most popular instruction. The big negative here is that the balls of your feet are not that far away from your toes. This instruction also likes you to shift your weight into the heels to try and prevent you from going on your toes during the swing.  The inside of your right heel on the backswing and the outside of your left heel on the downswing.

Now lets go to having your weight toward the heels at the address position. You hear about this recommendation the least, but none other than Ken Venturi wrote this as one of the  key fundamentals of the address position.  With your weight on the heels, Mr. Venturi felt that this kept you from standing too far away from the ball, and allowed the body to make a turn a lot easier. The biggest negative of having the weight favoring the heels is sometimes keeping your balance during the swing could be a problem. It is by far the least given advice but obviously has it’s advocates.

Finally having your weight over the arches of your feet or just in front of the ankles, is real popular on the golf channel instruction.  This, you could say is the compromise between the first two.  Your arch is farther away from the toes and getting closer to the heels but you don’t put the weight on the heels. The big positive here is that you should have no problem keeping your balance during the swing.  How much this frees your body up to turn is debatable but again shifting your weight into heels during the swing may help that.

Well hear are some rhetorical questions and you can give your own answers or just food for thought.  Do we really need to be in an athletic position to make a golf swing if we really are not moving off the spot where we are starting?  Do the heels really give us enough of a base to make a golf swing?  Can you really feel pressure in your arch to feel that this is where you are putting most of your weight at address? Something to think about and we will cross that bridge later.  Next up hip turn, do you or don’t you.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today’s post is going to discuss ball position. It is a much less complicated part of the golf swing discussion, but none the less, an interesting subject. There are two schools of thought concerning ball position. You should keep the ball in the same place, preferably off the left heel for every club in the bag. None other than Jack Nicklaus is the major advocate of this view. The other viewpoint is the ball should be played off the left heel for the driver, but then the ball should be moved back gradually toward the center of your stance, as the clubs get shorter, with the wedges being played right in the middle of your stance.  There is a third view on ball position, by another all time great, which I will get to at the end of this post.

Here is the interesting part.  Both advocate their position for the same reason. They say that their method of ball position allows you to swing the same for every club in the bag. Instruction  to play all shots off the left heel, says that since the ball is in the same position for every club, your swing does not have to change in order to hit the ball cleanly. Instruction  to move the ball back in your stance as the clubs get shorter, says that this is where your arc of the swing will make contact with ball naturally on a descending blow. This way your swing stays the same, and you catch the ball at the proper point, with out making any adjustments of your swing.  So who is right.  I will let you decide on that one, because that is not the purpose of these posts.

Now for the third view on ball position by the great Bobby Jones. He felt that ball position could be one of the things that you could change on a day to day basis depending on how you were playing. He felt this was one method to try to get back on track if you started out with some poor ball striking.  He felt you should play the ball forward in the stance, opposite the left heel as a general rule, but he would move it forward or back if he opened with a few bad shots and magically his game would return.  He would not move the ball position on any particular pattern of bad shots. It would be an instinctive move forward or backward until he just started hitting the ball better. Another method he used to get the feel back in his game was to choke up and down on the club. He salvaged many a round by playing all shots with his hands just an inch or so about the steel line of the shaft. He would wait until the end of the round to go to the practice range to try find the swing issue. He never tinkered with the swing during the round.

Well, there you have it ball position. Another bevy of information on something that should be so simple but lots of view points.  What’s a golfer to do. Next week will be weight distribution of your feet at address. Now that’s a real good one. When I first listed that one I wrote thank God are feet are not bigger or there might be more than the three opinions on this.

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The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

It’s a mid week blog, since I played golf on Sunday and yesterday, during this rough Western Pennsylvania winter.  Today is left heel day. Such a small part of the body, but the golf teaching world wants to talk about it a lot,and has lot’s of ideas. There are three schools of thought concerning that little left heel: 1. It should remain on the ground throughout the backswing. Certainly this is the current PGA tour swing mode.  2.  Its ok to lift the left heel at the top of the backswing but you should feel that your turn is dragging the heel off the ground.  In other words this not something you should consciously do. 3. You should lift the heel off the ground during the backswing. The theory being that this makes the backswing turn easier to do and is a more natural way to play.  So is this true. Should only the very flexible and PGA pros play with their left heel on the ground. Let’s break it down and see what’s really going on with each method. At the end of the post I will go through some very simple drills that will show what is happening.

Keeping your left heel on the ground  is going to do two things when you make a golf swing.  It will restrict your hip turn and it is going to make your head drop just slightly down.  Then depending on how long you keep your right heel down on the downswing your head is going drop even  more.  This head drop is evident in almost every tour players swing when it is analyzed on TV.  What I get a big kick out of, on every good shot the head drop is fine, every bad shot the head drop is too much. Head drop is simply a function of knee flex and heel function.

Raising your left heel at the end of the backswing or feeling like your turn is pulling your left heel up will do three things.   It will stop the slight drop of your head.  It will level your hips by raising your left hip.  It will slightly increase your hip turn but do nothing for your shoulder turn. You will not feel as much of a stretch up the left side at the top of the backswing.   Hip turn doing nothing for your shoulder turn will be discussed in more depth when the hips are discussed.

Raising your left heel as part of your backswing, in other words, start raising the heel as you start your swing will modify the above swing two ways. Your hips will start to turn quicker and your head will drop not at all as you go to the top of the swing.

Now for the drills that shows what is going on.  Both drills are very simple and no golf clubs are required.  First just stand in front of a mirror in natural standing position facing the mirror. Stand fairly erect but not at attention with the arms down at your side. While remaining standing, just flex your knees like you would in a golf set up and what happens. Your head lowers.  Go back to the standing position. Now stand up on your toes with your heels off the ground. Your head rises. Go back to the standing position.  Now as you begin to slowly flex your knees, start to raise your heels and your head will remain in the same position. The second drill is to assume your normal golf address position, no club necessary. With the left heel staying on the ground simply bend your left knee toward the ball as you would on the backswing,  without moving anything else. You will see that your hips turn a little and there is even less turn of your shoulders but they will move a little. Now, just go to the top of your swing with your full shoulder turn while keeping your left heel on the ground, and hold that position for just a second or two. Now raise the left heel.  Your hips will level up and you will fee a slight increase in your hip turn, but your shoulder turn will stay the same.

Some final comments. The group of instructors that advocate lifting the left heel as part of a normal backswing say this is a more natural way for the body to move. If you turn your body to talk to someone, or point in that direction, your heel comes off the ground. They also say if you tried to walk with your heels staying on the ground you would not walk very well or fast. I am not too sure what this really has to do with the golf swing.  This still might  be a good way to swing the golf club I don’t think this is the reason you should to do it.   This heel thing really boils down to the hips and head and what do you think they should be doing in the golf swing.  That’s another subject for another day. The next blog ball position.

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