How to Good Players to that?

Michelle Wie is a thirteen year old amateur who recently averaged 260 yards off the tee at the LPGA Nabisco championships in Palm Springs. Ian Woosnam and Jeff Sluman are both approximately 5’ 5” and both can hit the ball well over 280 yards in the air. Fred Couples and Ernie Els both swing at a pace that makes them look like they are swinging underwater, yet are they are known for their prodigious length. The accomplishments of these players seem almost magician like.

 

This month we are going to break the magicians’ code and tell you what the trick is in golf. It certainly is not swing mechanics for John Daly hits it farther than any of the above players and his “swing” is not one admired by the purists. As a friend of mine Bill Harmon says about swings “some of them look bad and the ball goes great and some of them look good and the ball goes terrible”. The “trick” is that each of these players uses the club to its maximum mechanical advantage.

 

The golf club is a tool and like all tools it is designed to make the task easier. The problem in golf is not that the club is a hard tool to use, but that how to use it is not obvious. In fact the proper use of the club through the impact zone is very counter intuitive. However, anyone can hit the ball further and with more accuracy if they learn how a golf club is designed to be used. It’s not about the swing it’s about the club.

The reason Michelle Wie at THIRTEEN can hit the ball so far is that she is doing the two things that all good players do with the club in the impact zone. First, she has the handle well ahead of the club head at impact. This gives her four pieces of mechanical advantage. Second, and most surprising to amateurs, is that she employs the face ballistic ally from approximately six inches in front of the ball to six inches past the ball. Square club face at impact is a mantra in golf that is repeated ad nauseum in golf magazines, videos, and teaching books. Things like try to keep the back of your left hand facing the target at impact, or hold the face square through and beyond impact are touted as a key to great shot making.

 

In a seven year study we found that there is no excellent player, amateur or pro, that does that. From six inches in front of the ball to six inches beyond the ball we found that the club face rotated through impact at the rate of approximately 2.5 degrees per inch or a total of 30 degrees. If one were to start with the club face square, take it back square, and hold the face square through impact, you would possibly hit shots somewhat straight but also inevitably short . The golf club is a two lever instrument and it must be employed as such. If you try to make a swing that keeps the face square to the path at all times you turn the club in to a one lever instrument. A baseball bat is a one lever instrument. The reason that baseball players are all enthusiastically lifting weights is so that they can swing the bat faster. With a one lever instrument the only way to hit the ball further is to swing the stick faster. Michelle Wie can’t and Els and Couples don’t. You don’t square the face at impact, you start to use it well before.      

Myth of the Golf Swing

The truth about golf is that virtually anyone can learn to play the game well and with relative ease. People are good not bad. Yet it is a sad fact that most people think that golf is hard and that there are only a chosen few that can learn to play the game well. Even people who have been successful all their lives in other sports struggle and become frustrated with their lack of improvement in golf.

The problem is not with the student, but with how the game is taught. Since the early 1930s or so, golf instruction has been plagued by the idea that there is a golf “swing,” and that if one learns to do this “swing” perfectly they will hit perfect shots. If they hit imperfect shots then there is something wrong with their “swing” and they must proceed to identify the offending body part or area of the “swing” which is in need of correction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As many golfers have discovered, this approach leads to a tremendous amount of frustration and confusion. And yet, this "Swing" philosophy thrives despite mountains of evidence to refute it.

It will become abundantly clear that the best and only way to learn golf is through a task oriented method. I believe that golf is a hand-eye coordinated activity. You use a tool, or club, to hit a ball. It is that simple. If you know what part of the ball to strike, how the tool is designed, and how to make the most of that design, then you have all the basics that you need.

By definition, a hand-eye coordination task requires the development of a "fine" motor skill, and this is really good news! Fine motor skills are the birthright of every individual, and they can be used to increase skill development throughout one’s life.

Champions such as of young and old prove that a swing does not need to be perfect or pretty to be exquisite in execution. Despite all the praise that Jack Nicklaus has received, you rarely hear that he has a great swing.

Still "The Perfect Swing" theory condemns the aspiring golfer to follow a path to frustration and despair, chasing a "perfect swing" that doesn’t exist. In contrast, this truth about impact method is built on the fact that golf is a stick and ball game. I believe that you already have the ability to play and play Ill to a high degree. It is a natural activity that is easily accomplished when you use the fine motor skills to perform the task and not the gross motor skills of the major muscles.

The fine motor skills reside in your fingers, hands, and forearms. It took five billion years for the brain to develop this amazing ability and it must be honored. Watching any accomplished typist or pianist should confirm that skill development of the fine motor system is far from unreliable, it is truly magnificent.

First we must break the Myth of the Golf Swing:

There is a golf swing I must copy and if I don’t swing the correctly I won’t hit good shots

  • This swing idea has produced volumes and volumes of conflicting information, and the result has been an endless stream of “tips” passed around and around from teacher to teacher, teacher to student, and student to student. Virtually everyone has a swing theory based primarily on hear say.
  • The truth is that you hit the ball with a club not a swing.
  • The truth is that the goal should be control of the ball, not body positions.
  • The truth is that golf is a “stick and ball” game, and needs to be learned the same way that say Ping Pong is learned
  • The truth is that the only model that makes sense is the one of a ball, a stick, and hand-eye coordination.
  •  

If learned through this model golf allows for individual creative expression. If learned through this model a person can learn a reasonable level of expertise, and maintain it even without constant practice. It is a model that taps in to the miracle of the fine motor system, which is a birthright that we all possess, that allows for continued skill development. This model frees the player from the ridiculous idea that golf is extremely hard, and because of that you must suffer through years of being lousy before you get to the promise land.

This model explains the baffling phenomena of why really good athletes in other sports cannot play golf well.

 

For Good Golf know the "Truth About Golf"

The truth about golf is that virtually anyone can learn to play the game well and with relative ease. People are good not bad. Yet it is a sad fact that most people think that golf is hard and that there are only a chosen few that can learn to play the game well. Even people who have been successful all their lives in other sports struggle and become frustrated with their lack of improvement in golf.

 

The problem is not with the student, but with how the game is taught. Since the early 1930s or so, golf instruction has been plagued by the idea that there is a golf “swing,” and that if one learns to do this “swing” perfectly they will hit perfect shots. If they hit imperfect shots then there is something wrong with their “swing” and they must proceed to identify the offending body part or area of the “swing” which is in need of correction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

There is no golf swing. Every day we see the best players in the world violating so called “swing fundamentals” and hitting wonderful shots with complete control of the golf ball. From Jim Furyks’ loop to Arnold Palmers finish and every where in between, we see players hit great shots with “swings” that don’t look at all like the model that the amateur is working so hard on to perfect.

 

A far more effective learning model is the one we employ every single day. That model is based on the fact that there is a ball, a stick, and hand eye coordination. There are only four things that ANY person need know to be able to learn how to play golf proficiently. One, what part of the ball they need to hit, two how is the club designed to be used, three how does the club orient to your hand, and four that you don’t hit the ball with a golf swing you hit it with a golf club.

 

Gain control and direction of your learning process. You have the power and the ability to do so. 

Gain Control

To gain control you have to learn the 4 Foundations of Ball Control

The basis of the system that you have just been introduced to, centers on the idea that to become a good golfer it is not necessary to develop a good swing, but instead to become a good user of the “tool” known as a golf club. Humans are built to be marvelous tool users. In golf that translates to understanding first, what is your task, second how the club is designed to be used, third how does the club orient to your hand, and finally that you hit a golf ball with a golf club and not a golf swing.  

You need to know:

  • How the golf ball flies.
  • How your club is designed to be used
  • How your club face is connected to your hands
  • How to hit the ball with your golf club, not your golf swing

Gain control and direction of your learning process. You have the power and the ability to do so. 

Good Practice Strategies

 There are several practice strategies that I would suggest.  They all contain several key elements:

1.       They are “games” designed to keep your interest and focus on otherwise boring drills.

2.       They have some way to keep score so you know if you are getting better.

3.       They contain some sort of consequences.  This is absolutely key and can’t be skipped. 

Details:

1.        The games that I have designed create situations where you have to master the smaller (an more important) parts of the game before moving to longer shots.  Don’t be fooled about the value of putting and short shots.  It may seem like a drive in the woods is a dramatic miss but it cost you as much as a missed six foot putt.  Most people don’t seem to be bothered by missing a handful of putts inside 12 feet but get very upset about hitting a shot in the woods.  This perception is totally opposite from how a good player views the game.  Remember, a missed shot tee to green offers many opportunity to make amends for your error but a missed 10 foot putt is a dropped shot…period.  Just as an example, Tiger made 56 putts in a row inside 6 feet (in tournament and down the stretch!)…Paul Runyan played on tour for over 15 years and averaged just UNDER two shots from inside 100 yards!  That means he chipped in slightly more often than he didn’t get up and down.  Play a round sometime and play 6 foot gimmes or auto-up-and-downs.  You would be staggered at how it changes your score.

 It is very difficult to practice short putts and chipping with any attention unless you make a game out of it.  When I was playing, I would spend on average four hours practicing inside 6 feet!  I would have lost my mind if I tried to do this without some sort of fun and excitement built in to the practice routine.  Most people that I see, head out to the putting green, drop a handful of balls and “putt around” for twenty minutes.  This does absolutely NOTHING for your game. 

2.       Keeping score is the only way to know if you are better today than yesterday.  It is also the basis for the “consequences” that we will talk about next.  Just like in business, if you track metrics, you can make adjustments to create performance.  If you don’t know exactly how well you are doing and what parts of your game are strong and weak, you can’t make refinements in your practice routine.  It takes a bit of discipline in the beginning, but just like metrics, as soon as you start to see the patterns, it becomes very rewarding.

 3.       Have you ever heard that “no matter how much I practice, when I get to the course, everything is different?”  There is a very simple reason for this.  Most people create a practice environment that is totally different than what they face on the course.  They hit balls on the range where shots that are thirty yards offline look straight, they putt and chip in a casual way without creating any of the pressure that they feel on the course, and they spend most of their practice time on parts of their game that aren’t causing the most dropped shots.  Creating a practice routine that simulates what you face on the course is the only way to have it translate.  The ONLY way to accomplish this is to put consequences on your practice games.  I will give you examples of mine, but you have to decide what is truly motivating and will get your heart rate going when facing them.

Games:

I have designed these to fit my game.  The details or parameters were appropriate when I was playing for a living.  You have to adjust the “bar” and consequences to fit your time, lifestyle, and goals.  I urge you to be creative as long as you stay in the simple guidelines of focusing on the smallest shots first, make it fun, and have harsh consequences.

Short Putting

Game #1              3 Foot Circle

There are many variation of this game and I see a lot of people do it, but without the consequences.  It is very simple.  Put one ball 3 feet from the hole (or one putter length) at each of the four compass headings.  Putt around the circle and repeat.

Each holed putt equals one point.  Each missed putt means you start over.  Start with a point total that you have to achieve before you move on to the next game.  I would suggest 12 points to start.  Go through this a handful of times having to start over and that last 3 foot putt will get your attention…just like on the course.

Modifications:  As you get better, you can increase the point total, increase the number of balls to 8, or add break to the putts

Game #2              Ten Footers

This is super simple as well but the key to scoring is being a great 10 putter.  There is nothing fancy about this one.

Put three balls at ten feet from the hole on a straight putt.  A holed putt equals one point and a miss equals one strike.  You have to get to 21 without striking out.  When I played, I would use three balls and I had to make at least one of the three or I would go back to zero.  There were days when I spent all morning trying to get through one game!  You have to make sure you don’t cheat or break the rules.  The more pressure the better.

Game #3              Baseball

I like this game because it is slightly more complex and it incorporates short and longer putts.  (Plus, being a baseball guy, you will probably like the analogy)

Put a coin or tee 3 feet from the hole (first base), 6 feet (second base), 9 feet (third) and 12 feet (home plate).  You will start at first base with three balls.  Any missed putt is one strike.  When you putt three, you move to the next base.  If you strike out, you start over.  Any putt you make from 12 feet without striking out is a “run.” 

 

You have to set your own goals and make them achievable .  You can always increase the difficulty but you should always be able to “win” without major failure in the beginning.  As an example, your initial goal might be to simply get to the 9 foot putts.  As you progress, your goal might be to get one run.  The only major rule is that if you set a goal, you HAVE to achieve it before you move on or leave.  Set the bar low and continually adjust upwards.  Striking out ensure that you are putting way more short putts than long ones but the long ones become very important and thus more stressful.

As an example, during my prime, increased the number of 3 and 6 foot putts to 6 balls and I would have to score 8 runs before striking out.  That meant that I had to go 21 of 24 inside from 12 feet and in.  I can tell you that I literally had my hands shaking when I had two strikes and 7 runs (after striking out many times).  People on the practice green thought I was crazy.

Game #4              Chipping

You are probably noticing a trend.  Chipping works the same way.  You can use the same structure to make up your own game.  I had about 20 different variations but put simply, I would pick a distance and shot characteristic and use the point total system.

For example, 20 foot chip and runs with a 9 iron.  That meant I was 4 feet off the green.  My 9 iron would roll 5 times further than it would fly on a chip and run.  I would get 3 points for holing it, one point for inside 3 feet, and minus one point for outside of 3 feet.  I had to get to 21 points.  I would often shake it up by actually playing the balls out and keeping score.  I had to get to 5 under par before moving on.  Once again, start relatively easy and adjust.  I would start off by picking a simple shot (like the one above) and trying to get to 21 points without using the “minus one” for chips outside of three feet. 

This type of game can be used all the way up to 40 yard pitch shots.  There are tons of variations.

Game #5              Full Shots

If you are going to hit balls on the range, you have to give yourself an actual “shot” to hit and a realistic target size.  So many times I talk to someone that says they hit it perfect on the range but spray it on the course.  When I give them an actual size green to shoot for on the range, they quickly see that they would have missed the green on almost every shot.  The range provides a scale that is not relevant to the course, so pick you targets accurately and decide on what type of shot you want to hit.  Include visualizations that include hazards.  For example, I am trying to hit a full shot to the red flag.  Anything short of the brown patch right before the green would be in the water (such as on 18 at CGC).  Any ball right of the blue flag would be in the woods, etc. 

I would focus on one type of shot that had been giving me trouble or I was uncomfortable with on the course.  I would try to pull the shot off a certain amount of times before moving on.  For example, I would have to make the shot 7 out of 10 times or 5 in a row.  Something like that.

Overview

The exact details of these games is not as important as the understanding of why they work.  You have to decide what consequences really get you stressed.  I always used “more practice” as the motivator, but with limited time, this may not be as realistic.  For many executives, I have suggested that they start with the short putting games and they have to get through them all in order to get to the full shots.  Most people love hitting driver on the range and being denied the pleasure seems to be a decent punishment.  If your time is really tight, the consequences for not achieving your goals have to be external from the practice routine.  Only you know, but it could be having to finish your practice games instead of playing the next time you are asked.  It could be having to make a sizable donation to a “date-night” fund for you and your wife.  (this one helps your marriage but isn’t much of a punishment…a shopping spree for your wife might be better).  Anyway, I am happy to brainstorm more ideas at the range but this is the simple formula that will create a gain in performance.

 

How the Golf Ball Flies

The idea of task is very important to grasp in your quest to become a superior ball striker. Humans learn best through task oriented learning, particularly when learning a motor skill. If one is given a tool, and shown how it is used to accomplish a task, they would assume that they could get better at it. Here is the tool, here is how you use it, now get better with it.

 When the club strikes a golf ball it starts spinning due to the loft or pitch of the club face. This spin is what gives the golf ball its capacity for flight. The spin of the ball provides lift, which allows the ball to counteract gravity for a short time so that the ball can fly further down range. Without spin hitting golf balls would be like launching cannon balls, the ball would travel on the same parabolic curve as a cannon ball and would only go as far as a given amount of gunpowder allowed. Without lift only the biggest and strongest people would be able to play, as they would be the only ones with enough “gunpowder”. The clubs job then is to hit the ball up. By hitting the ball up the club robs you of distance. This means that the player has, as one of their tasks, to gain back distance by using the club in a particular way. To hit the ball further with a given club you must reduce the manufactured loft during impact. If you add loft during impact you just rob yourself of even more distance.

 

Good Practice, not long practice

Play games on the course

Again, you learn to score by being on the course and playing, not by hitting hundreds of balls on the range.

If you can play late in the evening when the course isn't crowded, hit two balls-a kind of best-ball competition against yourself. If you're walking, you won't want to hit one ball 100 yards left and the other 100 yards right, so this will encourage you to be more consistent. Or play two balls on each shot, and then play from where the worse shot lands-that will tell you how inconsistent you are. Or play from where the better ball lands-that will tell you how good you can be. Or miss every green on purpose-that will force you to work on your short game.

Practice smart, not long

Keep your practices short and focused. I learned this from four great coaches in other sports: John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Pat Riley and Bill Walsh. When you do go to the practice range, focus on just a few basics, such as accelerating through impact, contacting the ball on the descent (except with the driver), putting your right elbow in the slot by your side on the downswing, moving your weight to your front foot through impact and finishing in balance. Limit the number of balls you hit on the range. Do your work in focused stints, then leave.

History of Golf Rules

Regardless of whether you are playing in a tournament or just a casual round, golf is played according to the rules. There are no referees to blow whistles or throw penalty flags. It is expected that every player will conduct themselves with a code of integrity, ethics, and respect for the rules and ones opponent.

Golf rules and etiquette follow three main tenets.

  • Play the ball as it lies
  • Play the course as you find it
  • Do what is fair

The refinement of these basic rules has been accomplished since the earliest days of golf nearly 800 years ago.  The rules apply to everyone. There are currently 34 Rules of Golf. They are administered by the United States Golf Association in America and elsewhere by the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews.  The USGA was founded in 1894, the R&A in 1754.  These two groups work together to constantly refine and improve the rules of golf.

 

Things have not always been this cooperative though.  In the very early days of golf, each golf club in Scotland produced their own and unique rules.  All of them were somewhat different…which made traveling competitions very interesting.  Eventually, the disagreements became suffocating and the clubs requested that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club promulgate one set of rules.  The golfers at St. Andrews were so honored because almost all Scots recognize St. Andrews as the birthplace of golf. 

The first known published rules of golf were thirteen in number and ordained by the Honourable Company of Golfers of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1744.  These rules were adopted and ratified nearly ten years later by the R & A.

As golf migrated to the Americas, similar rules fluctuation began to ensue.  It wasn’t until 1951 that the USGA and the R & A resolved all of their differences and agreed on the same set of rules. 

A complete copy of the Rules of Golf and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf may be obtained from the United States Golf Association, Golf House, P.O. Box 3000, Far Hills, N.J. 07931-3000.