Sunday, June 29, 2008

The shot of my life (so far)

Yesterday I played 9-holes on a really hot afternoon. (100F, 37.8C). Phew.

My improvement with the irons continued. I carried on my run of great first shots on this course with an opening 5-iron that I lost sight of immediately, only to see it land cleanly on the green.

My putting absolutely sucked. I must have had at least four birdie puts and didn't even manage a single par. I really must play more.

I was also very pleased with a 7-iron shot in a fair wind with the ball a good foot above my feet. The club was too long for the range, but I wanted to keep the ball down. So I hit it with reduced power, and was delighted to see the ball land and stay on the green.

I'm actually starting to get used to iron shots hitting the green...

Anyway, the reason for this post is the tee shot of the last hole. Normally I choose my irons based on the 7-iron giving me 140 yards, and moving up and down a club for each 10 yards each way. This hole was 145 yards: between clubs. There was no wind at this point, so I picked the 7-iron because I'd much rather be short than long on this particular hole (hills at the back, flat fairway at the front).

Now, as I said before, my iron play has greatly improved of late, but I do still have three main problems:
  1. I sometimes spoon the ball massively high and right, curling right viciously (normally with the shorter irons).
  2. When I hit it straight it tends to be pushed right (no curl).
  3. I'm still not hitting down on the ball as much as I should be (I'm not taking divots for a start).
The first problem I have basically identified as being caused by my wrists being lazy and not squaring up the clubface at the bottom of the swing. I'm aware of this and am working on it.

The second problem is more of a mystery, but I have a theory. I think it's because I'm not unwinding my hips early enough, so my entire upper body is still rotated away from the flag somewhat at the time of contact. Given a proper swing plane relative to my upper body, this would tend to produce a straight shot to the right.

The third shot is I also think connected to my wrist action.

Anyway, when stepping up for the 9th hole t-shot I concentrated on these things when doing the practice swings. I always like to find something I can think of that will produce the result I want without having to think about the mechanics of it, so in this case I concentrated on snapping my wrists through at the bottom and making a nice "thwack" sound with the club on the grass. I also concentrated on driving my hips through, especially close to the bottom of the swing (not the top: this used to contribute to the slice I used to suffer from).

So, I stepped forward and put all of this into practice, and...

OK, one more tangent. Since I've got better with the irons I've been listening out for a nice "click" sound when I get a decent contact. If I get that sound, I know I've hit it cleanly.

Back to this shot. I didn't get a click. I got a louder, sharp "snap" sound, the ball rocketed into the air, and seemed to hang there for an eternity. When it came down it did so behind the hills at the back of the green.

I just hit a 7-iron something like 150-160 yards, maybe more. And it wasn't bladed.

Oh, and it was straight too. No pushing to the right in sight.

Good news? Well, yes of course, but it does present a couple of problems. For a start, what club do I pick now when I want to hit 140 yards? I'm certainly not going to start hitting like this consistently overnight. I think I'm going to have to spend some time at the driving range in order to discover exactly how I did this and get consistent with it. Then I'm going to have to reevaluate which clubs do which distance all over again.

Then I really do have to work on that sucky putting...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shot shaping

Shot shaping is something I've stayed away from since I've been trying so hard just to hit the ball straight I didn't see how it would be possible to tell if I was doing it on purpose or not. It's just not sensible trying something like that until you can hit the ball consistently.

In my last round at Indian creek I was doing pretty well in some regards (long game), but the round was a failure from the point of view of breaking 100 due to my short game. In situations like that, I tend to let myself experiment a little more in the latter part of the round.

On one par five I found myself in the trees on the left, with little to do but chip out sideways. There was a tree bang in front of me and no gaps in the canopy. Depressing.

So, I decided that this might be a good opportunity to try playing a draw intentionally. I have tried before but always failed, because my swing involuntarily changes itself due to the different club face angle I create. It is as though your mind is determined that the club will hit the ball square on. This time I resolved to remain consistent.

I picked one of my hybrid clubs, and did a practice swing; noticing the weird effect on my swing again. So, I tried once more, this time taking care to ignore the clubface angle as best I could, and got a much more consistent swing out of it.

When I struck the ball for real, I was delighted to get a clean contact. I was even more delighted when I looked up to see the ball arcing beautifully to the left. It continued to do so until it caught one of the tree branches on the far side of the fairway.

So, not a 100% success, but a lot to be happy about. I've not done this before so I couldn't be expected to know how much the ball would curve. I'm sure that the combination of club and clubface angle can make for quite a combination of different types of ball flights, both in terms of height, curve and totall roll: I just got the combination wrong this time.

One thing's certain though: I was in a much better position than I'd have been in had I just chipped out sideways...


Tying swing plane to club length

I was going to write a full post on how I'm smoking the driver at the moment but I figured I'd mention that only in passing as I move onto a related subject.

At the end of last season I decided to cancel my PDP membership with Indian Creek, due to them raising the monthly membership price and the per-round charge, and since I wasn't playing all that often it just wasn't worth it. It's a shame because I really like that club: two great courses, friendly staff and (formerly) good prices.

So I went there for one last time, after which I would cancel. I went alone, but got put into a group of three other guys who really welcomed me into their game. They claimed to shoot in the 90's with the occasional round the in 80's. Well, for one of them I can't really see that being the case as he had a worse slice than I've ever had. He aimed 45 degrees to the left on every hole and still ended up in the trees on the right pretty frequently.

I out-drove all of them, which is where the smoking the driver part comes in. I'm really pleased with how that part of my game has come along. I actually free confident stepping up with the long stick that I'm going to crush it straight down the middle. I did pretty well with the 3-wood too, reaching one par-5 green in two strokes.

As usual, with me the problem starts as the club gets shorter, which is odd since I always hear that people tend to find the shorter clubs easier.

Just after I failed with a short club shot, one of my playing partners pointed out that I was swinging it like a wood, and that I should be hitting down on the ball when playing the irons.

This is something that I knew already, but had forgotten. There are so many things to remember in golf, it is all too easy to forget the things that you thought you'd already got figured out.

This was close to the end of the round, so I didn't get too much opportunity to try things out, but I did find myself in the trees on the left with a nice looking hole in the canopy above me in line with the flag. I took the 8-iron and really concentrated on hitting down with a steeper swing plane, and was delighted to see the ball flying up straight through the gap. I was well short of the flag, but a longer club wouldn't have had the loft required to make it over the trees. In the end, this was a far better result than chipping out sideways, so I was very happy with that.

From this I took away the lesson that the angle of your swing plane should be tied to the length of the club you are using. It has served me well since as I will post on later.

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Long time no post

To be honest it's because I've not played much really, mainly due to lack of time. And if I'm not getting enough time to play, I'm certainly not getting enough time to write blog posts.

Having said that though, I have played a few times, and have a few things to post about, so I figure I might as well post them individually instead of just lumping them all into one massive golf dump.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The multiplication of the golf swing

As you learn, you find out things that you really wish someone had just told you about in the first place. If you'd been told it, a lot of things would have fallen into place a long time ago.

So, I'm going to tell you about one of those things now. If I'd have known this a few years back, I would have got a lot further a lot quicker.

Basically, this is to explain that the true power behind the golf swing lies in the multiplication of the three main movements of the swing.

To demonstrate, you might want to go to a driving range when there is nobody else there as you'll probably look a bit weird doing these things.

Tee up a ball, and set yourself up. Now, using only your arms, hit the ball. Don't rotate on your hips, don't do anything with your wrists. Just swing the arms. See how far the ball goes.

Now do it again, but this time keep your arms and wrists still, and only rotate your body. Again, see how far the ball goes.

Finally, try it using only your wrists and nothing else.

In all cases, you'll note that the ball doesn't go particularly far.

Now try combining two of the moves. It will be weird with some of the combinations, but here's an interesting thing: if you cast the club badly and come over the top, you're effectively only using your arms and body rotation in your swing. The wrist movement has already been spent at the top where it's doing you no good at all. So you can actually hit the ball quite far using only two of these movements. That's because when the movements happen at the same time, the effect is that the club head speeds multiply instead of just adding.

A truly powerful golf swing happens when all three of these movements are at their peaks when the club head strikes the ball. That's why it's more about timing than it is about just trying to smack it as hard as you can.

Using some completely made-up numbers, imagine your wrists were moving the club head at 5mph, your arms at 10mph and your body at 3mph. Multiplying all of these together and you get 150mph: quite a way more than any of the original speeds.

One bit of advice that I have had before, is to listen to when you hear the "whooshing" sound in your swing. If you're hearing it at the top, you're doing too much too early. You ideally want to hear that sound at the bottom the swing: that way you're know you're delivering just when it's needed most.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The wrists and the dual plane

I've spent a lot of time reading about the golf swing and the various part of the action, and one of thie things that has frustrated me the most is that generally things get explained in terms that could have many possible interpretations.

An excellent example is the role of the wrists. We read terms like 'release', 'roll', and 'unhinge' without really knowing what this actually means.

Today at the driving range I think I finally realised that my interpretation has been completlely wrong for some time now.

I've always treated the wrist action roughly how it is treated in the baseball bat swing. That is, the wrists roll over to extend the bat (club) in a straight line as much as is possible. It never made sense to me to do it any other way, since otherwise you're fighting against centrifugal force. My wrists have always been something of an inactive participant in the swing, just flinging forth when the force of the swing makes them do so.

Unfortunately, I think the wrists need to take a much more active role for a more powerful, accurate and consistent swing.

The reason is that the way I've been swinging doesn't make sense in another way. When you set up, there is an angle between the arms and the club shaft. So if on the downswing the wrists move to straighten this angle, suddenly the club shaft is going to go straight into the ground, unless you raise the angle of the arms. That means there's more reach, and the clubface is toe-down (which would no doubt encourage a slice if hit solidly), or a topping/shank due to the club head being further away from the body. Nasty...

And these are also common outcomes of a lot of my strokes...

The key problem is that if you use the wrists this way you have to come over the top, otherwise you will hit the floor a good foot or so behind the ball (depending on the length of the club). I've always had a fear of coming from the inside as it generally causes me to floor it. Now I know why...

The truth, I believe is that there is no one 'plane' in the swing: there are two.

The first plane is the plane that the arms move in. This is a fairly steep plane, which gets shallower the longer the club. The important thing to note here is that this plane does not meet with the ball o the target line that the ball is on. Instead, it points between your toes and the target line. Basically, where your arms are pointing at address. In the takeaway and downswing, this is the plan that your arms must follow.

The second plane only exists at the bottom of the downswing, and is caused by the wrists. This plane is very shallow, and follows a line between the ball and probably just below your hips. From the top of the downswing, your arms drop down along the first plane we just talked about, with the butt of the club leading the way. As the impact zone is approached, the second plane is created by the action of the wrists, which causes the club to flick out along this new plane while the arms are still swinging along the original plane. What we get is the club speed being the product of the movement in the two planes, which is what generates so much power with miniman effort.

I suppose I'd better try and explain what the wrists actually do when the create this second plane...

The left wrist acts as the pivot point. The largest movement it makes is to rorate around the axis that is the forearm. There is also a little lateral movement too which translates into moving the clubhead down somewhat.

The right wrist (actually right arm) facilitates this rotation around the left wrist axis. It is the right arm that propels the clubhead along this new plane, while the left arm control it. This fits in with my Tiger Woods book in which he states something like "My left hand is my control hand, the right is my speed hand". It's hard to describe in words, so I'll see if I can't knock up some simple diagrams to illustrate what I'm saying here.

Anyway, I should stress that this is all stuff that I figured out myself today, so I may be utterly utterly wrong, and if you actually know a thing or two about golf you may be laughing in your seat at my conclusions.

However, before you laugh so hard you fall out of your seat, consider this. While I didn't get the hang of consistently swinging the club in the way I describe (not enough time or balls) I did occasionally get it right, and when I did I hit the ball high and long with little effort.

I think I'm on to something here...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

How to stop coming over the top

I've been making a lot of changes lately, aided by a small amount of tuition. The result is that I'm hitting the ball fairly consistently now, but tend to either pull or slice the ball on most shots.

The cause of this is quite clearly that I'm coming over the top, and I'm certain that if I can iron out this error, my shots will become a lot more accurate and my scores will come down.

The trouble is, I'm told this is one of the hardest bad habits to break, so I have my work cut out for me on this one.

So, I've been online looking for tips and advice. Basically, anything I haven't tried before and I found the following:
  1. Laying off at the top of the backswing will promote an 'over the top' downswing.
  2. Think of hitting the inside-back quadrant of the ball rather than the back.
  3. Finish high
  4. The arms should start the downswing, and your back should still be to the target when this happens.
  5. Your right arm should be level with or below the left in the downswing
How these apply to me:
  1. I know that I lay the club off beacuse I did some swing practice with my shadow immediately behind me and could clearly see it.
  2. I've always thought to hit the back of the ball as straight as possible. This is one of those tips which you're not actually supposed to follow to the letter (otherwise you'd end up hitting the ball 45 degrees to the right) but is supposed to fool your body into making a smaller adjustment.
  3. My finish is generally quite low as the club comes across my body early on.
  4. I've always had a problem with this, as my body rotates at the start without my thinking about it.
  5. Having taken some practice swings to test this, I can say that my right arm is definitely higher than the left on the downswing. This is probably related to my tendancy to cast the club at the top.
So, I have a lot to look at, and yesterday I went to the driving range to try these out. Here's how I did:
  1. I found that trying to stop laying the club off caused my right elbow to fly out behind me. I'm sure that I can correct this, but it will take practice to convince my body to do it properly. I can also see this this is one of those thing I'll over-compensate initially, so I'll probably end up having a problem with crossing the line for a while. :)
  2. This is very interesting and I think it works really well. The best thing about it is you don't actually have to do anything: just make sure you're thinking about it.
  3. WHen I actually remembered to do this I hit better shots. The problem is that this comes after everything else so it's easy to forget it.
  4. This one helped me. If I thought of dropping my arms with my back to the target it made me more inclined to start the downswing with my arms. This may be the most important tip I've applied in this session.
  5. I completely and utterly forgot to give this one any time. Probably a good thing since I had a lot of other stuff to think about anyway. It will be interesting to see if I still have this problem given the other adjustments I've made.
The upshot is that while this is all going to take practice to have a sweeping effect on my game, I did notice some very positive things yesterday. More than once with my 7-iron I nearly hit the flag that I was aiming at with a lovely shot that went high and straight.

Probably the best thing was I nearly hit the flag I was aiming at once with the driver too! I've love to be that accurate with the driver all of the time.

I also gave my 8-iron and pitching wedge a go and was encouraged.

The downside was that I couldn't hit my 3-wood for toffee. The other downside was that thinking about all of this stuff made me forget about my more recent change or not overswinging. I consider that to be very important, so I'll have to make sure I keep that in mind.

However, I'm not going to get upset as I know that this is going to take time to practice and fix. Once I do, I should be more accurate, more consistent and finally be able to break 100 every time I play.

Then I can set myself a new target...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Chipping: The Silver Lining

I mentioned before that my chipping's the best part of my game at the moment, and it's true. Yesterday I opted to chip from a foot off the green with my 7-iron (I used to always putt from here) and I holed it. The hole was a good 10 yards away and downhill. Shots like that save me a lot of the strokes I waste in slicing and pulling myself into danger.

Actually, yesterday was the worst that I've chipped for a while, but even then I think I could count the bad chips on one hand.

For me, the most important things I think about in chipping are:
  • Use the right club (choose the right club for loft and distance).
  • Use your putting grip.
  • Choke down a bit on the club.
  • Keep your eye on the ball and head down.
  • Don't stab at the ball: aim to swing though. If the ground happens to stop you're club, so be it.
  • Put the ball well back in your stance.
I've also started using a chip to get out of trees. Instead of trying to do a half-swing to get out of trouble, I just use something like a 7-iron and chip it out. I find that gives me more confidence and control: I don't need to worry about hitting it too far and going into the trees at the other side of the fairway.

The Return of the Slice

I mentioned a few posts back that my slice has gone, to be replaced by a hook.

Yes, that was true there for a few weeks. But now the slice is back, and it's not happy...

The most frustrating thing is, I know exactly why it's happening. I'm coming over the top quite severely. This is being caused by a casting of the wrists at the start of the downswing and is compounded by early rotation of my body at the same time.

The result is that the clubface comes across the line (right to left as you look at the target). If the clubface is square to the target, it slices. If it's closed, it pulls. Sometimes I even manage to do this with an open clubface, which results in a really high shot with masses of slice. You have to see this shot to believe it...

I'm really going to have to work on this. I'm actually pretty happy at the moment with the rest of my swing. This is costing me accuracy and distance, but is only one thing. If I can sort this out, I should see my scores start to come down significantly...

Club Change

The contents of my golf bag would currently get me disqualified from a tournament. I have one club too many.

I've started carrying my 4 and 3 irons with me and now use the hybrids rarely. I don't know why really, I just don't hit them as well as I used to. I think it might be something to do with there being an additional type of club that I have to know how to hit. I've been putting a lot of effort lately into hitting my irons properly, so I don't want an extra type of club to confuse me.

Besides, I have been hitting these longer irons pretty well on occasion. Certainly not any worse than the shorter irons. The other day I hit a 3-iron and it actually went exactly where I aimed it.

So, I'm going to have to decide what to do with these clubs. If I remove all three, that will leave me with 12 clubs. Room enough for an additional wedge and a 5-wood I suppose...

The lessons

I've now had four lessons; the first two of which were really useful. The third was about chipping and basically confirmed that what I was already doing was right. The fouth was full swing but with a different teacher, and he basically contradicted some of the things I'd learned in the first two lessons. Oh well...

But the first two were really useful. First, I was shown just how much I overswing. I was asked to do a half-swing, and did so, He said I'd basically just done a full swing, so I obviously swing back a lot further than I think I do. He also told me that I was standing too close to the ball and swinging too shallow.

The second lesson he told me I was standing too far from the ball and swinging too steep: I'd over-compensated. But this is where I learned a really useful bit of information. If you hit a shot fat, you're probably swinging too steep. If you're topping it, you're probably swinging too shallow. I'd not heard of this before, and since then it's removed a lot of the mystery for me about why my shots do what they do.

Breaking 100

Breaking 100 was fantastic. Unfortunately, I've only done it once. I'm still hitting great shots like I did when I broke 100, but not so many.

I broke 100 by hitting a couple of pars, a lot of bogeys, a few double bogeys and only one triple. That's excellent for me, as I usually have a number of holes where I triple-bogey or worse.

So, my current target is to break 100-again.

Monday, April 24, 2006

What's been happening

Well, a lot really. And not a lot. And... well, let me try to explain.

I've had a lot of 'bad 'timing luck' lately. Things keep happening just at the 'right' time to prevent me playing. So I've not actually played as much in the last couple of month as I'd have liked to.

Having said that, quite a lot has happened in the time that I have played. I'll briefly summarise here and then post separate post to add some detail (so this doesn't become a horrible long mess).

Very short version (in no particular order): had some group lessons, chipping getting better, goodbye slice, hello hook, bag change, broke 100 sucked again, sorta figured it out. I think.

Yes, I broke 100. :) I scored 96, playing from the white tees (I normally play from the blue). However, I don't think the tee change had much of an effect, as rather than getting firther up the fairway from the tee shot I found myself having to use shorter clubs than usual to compensate. The course I play on has a lot of dog-legs, so I had to club down to avoid overdriving.

This came about from the lessons I've had, which have opened my eyes a great deal and given me a better understanding of how the swing works, and how to tell what I'm doing wrong when I get it wrong. However, I'll leave this all to another post.

After I broke 100 I played again (from the white tees: I've been introducing someone new to the game) and I sucked. Royally. Nothing was working, though I put it down to a last-minute grip change I made to fix the hook I have with my driver. The last round I played was better (heading for 103 from the blues, but screwed up on the last hole). But I'm figuring it out and feel a lot more confident.

Erm, what else in brief. Oh yes, the slice is gone, except for one thing I keep doing, but that's specific. I used to slice each and every club in my bad, the longer the worse. Now I rarely slice it at all, and I have a draw, that becomes a hook with the driver. But I know why that is, I just need to convince my arms to stop doing what they're doing. :)

Anyway, I'll leave it here for now and post some detail later.

Still here

Just a quick but contentless post to keep this alive. I do have quite a lot to post but haven't had time of late. Hopefully soon.