Sunday, January 08, 2006

Revelation Day

This is going to be rather a long post but it's important to me that I get it all down.

Some weeks ago I filmed myself swinging for the first time and immediately saw a massive over-backswing and a terrible takeaway.

Since then I managed to shorten the backswing somewhat but it didn't make that much of a difference to my game.

Recently I've been thinking and reading a lot about problems with the whole of my game and constructed a plan which involved a number of alterations that have resulted in sweeping changes across my entire game.

Here's a summary of the things I've changed:

  • Made my posture more upright
  • Hold my head up higher at setup
  • Slightly adjusted my full-swing grip
  • Changed my mindset on the takeaway
  • Changed my mindset on the follow through
  • Completely changed my putting grip
  • Use the new putting grip for chipping
Vague descriptions I know (I'll go into details later), but as I say, these are sweeping changes that affect each and every shot I play in a round. Yesterday, I got the chance to try them out.

It was revelation day. Seriously, I've come to golf each week with changes in mind and they've never had much of a difference. This time they most definitely did, without a shadow of a doubt. For a start, I was actually hitting shots on the driving range, while before I'd feel lucky if I hit a handful: especially with the short irons. As for the round, I don't think my score really changed this time, but that's largely because I'm going to have to adjust my distances now to account for the new swing.

Basically, everything in my round reversed. At practice I only fluffed a handful of shots. Previously, I'd only hit a handful in the air. I started to approach all shots thinking "I can hit this" instead of "I hope I can hit this". The swing worked with all clubs: sand wedge to driver. I actually stopped worrying about my slice (it was still there, but far less so). I stopped worrying about the short clubs (recently my worst enemies). I didn't hit a single bad chip all day. Normally I'd be surprised if I hit one good chip all day. I even tried a flop-shot and pulled it off.

I can't stress enough how much of an improvement I felt. I was more confident, and I actually had fun. Sure, I had nightmare holes. Specifically, one where I tool about six shots to get out of a bunker, but that was with a pitching wedge because I didn't want to have to go and get the SW because there were people waiting. But there you go... I also had one nightmare hole involving more trees than any human being should have to endure...

Anyway, the technical bit. What exactly did I change?

Well, for a start I removed a lot of the guesswork out of the grip by picking up on one tip I read, which is that the channel in the palm of the right hand should cover the left thumb completely. This made it easier for me to grip the same way every time.

The second (and I think most crucial) change was to alter my posture. I noticed in my recordings that my swing plane was very flat, which probably explains why I could hit longer clubs better than the shorter ones. I've been reading Wood's book "How I play Golf" and in the section on posture I saw myself clearly in the 'leaning over too far' category. So I changed that. Woods says "I have the feeling that I am light on my feet" when he's in the correct posture. I have modified this slightly for my own purposes: I know that I'm in the right position if I can jump straight up in the air and land back in the same posture again without struggling to keep balance. In my old posture that would have been impossible.

The other (related) change is to hold my head up more at setup. I've found this to be a lot more important than you might think. It makes it easier to get the posture right, for some reason, and of course gives the shoulders space to rotate. I've always positioned my head so that my eyes can look straight at the ball. Having studied photos of Pros I've noticed that their eyes are all looking down. So now I know that I need to be looking at the ball through the bottom rim of my glasses to have it right.

I changed my takeaway mindset by looking at a frame-by-frame of Garcia. The commentary on the takeaway notes how extended his arms are when the club is horizontal to his right, providing a nice wide swing radius. It just kinda hit home to me, and now all I have to concentrate on is getting a nice extension on the takeaway and the rest of the backswing takes care of itself.

My follow-through change was to "Shake hands with the target". I've read this in a number of places in the past but for some reason haven't taken notice. This basically helps me to deliver the club on line, and works a charm (though this is the one thing I've struggled most to stick to). I believe this has gone a long way towards curing my slice, as I had much less of a problem with that yesterday than I have ever had.

The putting grip has changed from the one I invented a few years ago to the reverse-overlap that Woods (and a number of other Pros) use. I found that it completely removed my hands from the equation, and left the putt solely under the control of my shoulders. The problem that my distances were all wrong, leading to far too many 3+ putts (a major reason why my score didn't really improve) but this will take just a bit of practice to sort out. The line of my putts definitely improved though, and I noticed far less 'wobbling' of the clubface through the swing, which made me feel far more confident.

The chipping grip is now the same as the putting grip, and I make a conscious effort to hit down on the ball. As mentioned previously, the result was that I didn't mis-hit a single chip, though I did overhit a few. Again, something that I just need to practice.

With the Irons, more than once I'd hit what felt like a nice shot, look up and not see the ball. Worried that I'd sliced it massively, I'd up further and there it would be. I've not been able to do that for some time.

I had some back luck too, like my hybrid shot onto the green of the second hole. I actually hit the left side of the green, but it hit a sprinkler and darted hard left. Bad severe kicks like his happened to me more than once.

Actually, it really wasn't my day for luck at all, come to think of it. But that didn't matter because I was actually hitting the ball well with all clubs. I even used my 3-iron once and had no problem getting it off the deck.

Now, I normally try to score at least one par a round (yes, that is how bad I am, but I had a number of par putts and one birdie putt that missed by about three inches, but as mentioned previously the putting needs distance practice now). Yesterday I reached the last hole with no par, and to add to the pressure it was getting dark. I hit my tee shot reasonably, though not stunningly. I say reasonably because it was on the fairway and didn't slice off into the water on the right, which for me counts as 'reasonably'. It landed on the right side of the fairway. I know for a fact that I hit it 215 yards because it was in line with the 217 marker on a 432 yard hole. I've done better, but at least it was on the fairway.

To make par I was going to have to get on or close to the green, and do it over a large chunk of water that was closer to the green than it was to me (which always intimidates me), so I reached for my 3-wood and stepped up. I felt strangely confident, and concentrated on getting my new swing right. Boy, did I. I heard that lovely ping my 3-wood gives on a good contact and looked up to see the ball flying straight at the flag without a hint of slice. It landed just short and rolled up and stayed there. I drove to the green to see the ball sat about 15 yards past the flag. I'd hit it about 230 yards off the deck: longer than the driver shot. This time my putting didn't fail me, and I two-putted for par. What a fantastic way to finish the most enjoyable day of golf I've had for months. I can't wait until next week...


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