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.