Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I'm So Cool!

This past weekend I attended a large demo day sponsored by the biggest golf store in Philadelphia and show-casing about ten major club-makers. The weather did not cooperate: 45 degrees, windy, and occasional spitting rain. Given that, the parking lot was full and the various tents were crowded with people anticipating the new season.

Off to one end of the range, the sponsoring store had provided a teaching pro who was there to give quick lessons to young kids. I watched him work with a young boy — perhaps 8 - 10 years old, and here is what he said to the kid.

"You see all those guys hitting balls? They're all here hunting for the secret... hoping to be cool. Well, I'll tell you what, son. I'm going to tell you the secret... it's an easy secret... and I'll give you a prize when you do it for me. OK?"

The kid nodded doubtfully, and the pro went on...

"OK... good! You've already got the start of a good swing, so here's what we're going to do. You know what I said about all those guys wanting to be cool?"

Another cautious nod...

"Well here's all you have to do, to be really cool. I want you to make your swing, hit the ball out, and then hold your finish while you say — out loud — 'I'm so cool.' Think you can do that?"

Still doubtful, the kid shrugged and said that he could.

"Great! I know you can, and I'm going to give you a prize when you do it three times in a row. Now show me how cool you are."

And so the kid made a couple of stumbling attempts, hitting glancing blows and either forgetting to say the words or mumbling them. But the pro never lost his enthusiasm, urging him to just hold his finish and say the magic words.

On about his fourth attempt he did — held his finish and said the words — but the shot went sideways into the protective net.

"Good... that's the first one. And I'll tell you what. It doesn't matter where the ball goes. We don't care about that. All you have to do is do that two more times — hold your finish and say, 'I'm so cool,' and you'll get your prize."

So the kid did do it twice more and, as you might guess, those last two shots arced straight out and down the range just as you'd want.

Whereapon, the pro gave him a cap with the store's logo, asked him if he could keep on doing that, told him not to give away the magic secret and that he was cool.

What a nice little lesson that pro gave: a painless combination of good mechanics and good self-image, all in a quick 10 minutes.

I'll bet that kid remembers that lesson forever.

I know that I will. How about you?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Golf On a String

The other day I was talking with a friend who was lamenting the fact that our practice range won't open until mid-April. He was impatient because it includes an isolated sand trap where you can hit mid to long irons. As you probably know, that's terrific practice because it demands that you make perfect ball contact.

It's not that you want to pick the ball off the surface, you want a normal descending blow, but you have to get the ball first. If you get sand first, the effect is greatly magnified, so the feed-back is clear.

That discussion reminded me of a great substitute drill that you can do anywhere, using a simple 3-foot length of string. Lay the string down perpendicular to your target line, put the ball right on it, and hit shots without picking up the string with your club-head. Simple, but — like the sand — the feedback is immediate and obvious.

If you find it difficult, start with the string an inch behind the ball. When you can do that, move up to a half-inch... then a quarter-inch... then with the string tucked under the back half of the ball...

You'll learn a lot about your contact, and you can't help but get better.

You're welcome!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Balance: Two Ideas

I've made the point that balance is one of the true fundamentals of the golf swing. How can you make a powerful and repeating swing if you're not in balance throughout?

Here are two ideas that should help your balance:

  • A big part of balance is knowing where your true center of gravity is: about two fingers below your navel. Most people assume that the center is much higher: somewhere in the middle of the chest. To test that, focus on that below-the-navel spot and try standing on one foot. Then, focus on your chest and repeat. You'll find that you're much more unstable and "tippy" in the second case. It works the same way in your golf swing: with your center low in your body, you'll be much more balanced and stable in your swing. Try it!
  • I've talked previously about holding your finish position (Point B) until your ball lands and comes to rest — using that time to replay the feel of the shot as you observe the result. You do that without judging... you just feed the visual of the shot and the feel of the shot into your subconscious, allowing that subconscious to work it all out. But, here's an advance on that idea... in your practice or even on the course (if your friends won't abuse you too much) move smoothly from your balanced finish position back through the swing in reverse: from finish... to impact... to top of the backswing... and finally to address position. If you can return to "Start" and stay balanced throughout, then you are truely balanced. Try it!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A "Holographic" Tip

On my "Review" page today, I've recommended two books by Larry Miller, Holograpic Golf and Beyond Golf. Both are terrific, and both deal more with the mental than with the physical side of golf.

Here's a prime example:

Imagine that your ball and your club's face are magnetized —that when you address the ball, one sticks tight to the other. You'll have to carry that head/ball combo back and up carefully to avoid dislodging it, accelerate smoothly into the downswing, and then fling the head/ball through in order to launch the ball forward. It's almost identical to Fred Shoemaker's idea in Extraordinary Golf, where he shows (with pictures) that people intuitively make the correct swing motion when they're asked to actually throw their club toward the target.

So, there are really two tips, all for the price of one! (But then, all of this is free, anyway, isn't it? Such a deal!)

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Putting Tip

I've been ignoring this page (as I've been working hard on the Essays and the Podcasts).

Here's the first in a series of putting tips, drawing heavily on Dr. Joe Parent's Zen Golf, and on The Mental Art of Putting (Cohn and Winters, Taylor Trade Publishing).

I spent years telling myself and others that I couldn't putt. I'm still working/recovering from that, but here's a key thought, for putts of 15 feet and beyond, that put me on the road to wellness.

  • I know I'm not going to make all of these.
  • But, somewhere in this round, I know I'll make at least one.
  • And, this might be it!

That simple thought made all the diffence for me. It took me from expecting the next disaster to the possibility of a success: from dreading to anticipating. Such a little thought... such a big change!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

How Slow? Part IV

Here is the last in my "How Slow?" series, and it's a method for taking this idea from the range onto the course.

How do you make your club selections, and how good are those choices? By "good," I'm asking how often do you end up falling short of your target (and remember, you have a specific target on every shot... including with the driver), and also how often are you swinging with full-out 100% effort? If your ego is making you choose a club that will only get you there with a perfect shot, then you're making bad choices. (Players with handicaps above single digits are making mostly bad choices.)

Here's a different way to think. For approach shots, choose first the club that you absolutely know will carry past the target: on a shot into the green — over the green. Then, take one club less. If you're completely sure you can hit a smooth 5-iron over the green, choose a 6-iron for the shot.

For tee shots on par-4 and par-5 holes, choose a target that you absolutely know you can hit past, and then swing so as to hit only to that target.

See if you don't swing more smoothly, and hit more targets, with that thought.

Monday, December 12, 2005

How Slow? Part III

To put a reverse spin on this subject, if we're advocating a slower swing, what portion of the swing moves fastest?

Break the downswing into quadrants: from the top to hip-high; from hip-high to impact; from impact to pointing at the target; and from there to the finish. Which quadrant is fastest? Would you agree that it is the third portion?

Not only is that true, but speed past impact is the key to distance. And here lies the main point of this tip... the key to speed past impact is acceleration. The idea is not swinging fast from the top, it is instead swinging slowly down from the top and only accelerating as you are well into the second quadrant.

My proof... after coming from six strokes behind to beat Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters, Nick Faldo said his key thought for the day was a slow move down from the top.

So, again... how slow can you swing? (At least through the first half.)