Frank Akey has been a teaching professional specializing in the short game since 1989, having taught students that ranged from raw beginners through mini-tour players, all ages, male and female. He served served as the Short Game Director for a major golf school for a brief time as well. His career prior to golf was in the weapons/tactics field, also as an instructor, so teaching accuracy seems to follow him.
I have some Core Beliefs and Absolutes when it comes to putting and the short game in general. This article is related to putting, so here are my “absolutes:”
- Only two things can happen when you stroke a putt, no matter if it is a 1 footer or a 100 footer … you make it or you miss it, it is that simple.
- Only two things you can have control of when you stroke a putt … you roll it on the line you intended and you roll it the speed you intended, also that simple.
- You can make EVERY putt that you look at, no matter how long or how many breaks in the putt, BUT, not all putts will go in.
- Imagination and feel is more important than having pure mechanics.
- DO NOT LAG PUTT!!
Now, having said that, I can already hear the people yelling, “Blasphemy!” and “This guy is a flake/moron/idiot …” Or whatever description comes to mind, so let me expand a little on each of the above absolutes.
Let’s tackle the lag putt. This subject matter could take pages of discussion, but I will keep it short and sweet for the purpose of this article. My reasoning for teaching my students NOT to lag putt is more by definition of what most, including the majority of TV announcers, define as lag putting. When I hear someone say that the golfer is just trying to get the ball within a 5-foot circle, or that they would be happy if they kept the ball within X amount of feet, it drives me crazy! I am ALWAYS looking to MAKE the putt, no matter how many breaks, how far, degree of difficulty … I want the ball to stop within the magical 4.25” circle…the hole. There will always be a line and speed combination that will allow the ball to go in, and sometimes there is more than one combination that will work. Using the other definition, a lag putt is an intentionally missed putt that hopefully is close enough for an easy next putt. Using that logic, on a tough driving hole, do you lag drive hoping to keep the ball within 40 yards of the fairway? How about from the middle of the fairway 120 yards out, do you lag approach just trying to keep the ball within 40 yards of the green? Putting is all about confidence, and a lag putt is a lack of confidence in either your first putt or the ability to make the second putt from wherever the first putt stops.
That takes us to knowing you can make any putt that you look at, yet, not all putts will go in. That is the confidence that you build by practicing all kinds of putts, long and short, straight and breaking, uphill and downhill. Once you start seeing a lot of putts falling, your confidence starts to increase on those types of putts. Now when you have a 50 foot putt, you aren’t worried if you miss knowing you will make the next one, so you will start trying to make the longer putts. Believe it or not, they will occasionally go in … whodathunkit? It is a simple theory, but once you lose confidence in your putting, your chances of making anything dwindle dramatically. What some do not realize, is that a perfectly struck putt on a perfectly manicured green on a perfectly straight line will go in perfectly dead center … but not 100% of the time. The ball can have very slight imperfections that cause the ball to veer off line. The blades of grass are growing by the millisecond, and a small grain of sand may move ever-so-slightly and knock the ball off line. Something can make the ball take a small hop, which will change the roll and possibly alter the path. On the flip side, those same things can happen to a putt that is slightly OFF line and end up causing the ball to take the CORRECT line and go in … have you ever had that happen to you? It has happened to me.
My absolute that says only two things can happen is pretty much self-explanatory. After you strike a putt, the only results are a missed putt or a made putt. There isn’t really much than can be expanded on, so let’s look at this absolute’s cousin, only two things that you can control … speed and line. If after spending time reading the putt, you determine the line you think the ball must roll on, you can control whether or not you roll it on that intended line. Also, after determining what speed you think is necessary for the putt to go in, you can control the pace of your stroke to produce that speed. At the end of the putt, your ball rolling on your intended line on your intended speed will have done one of two things … you made it or you missed it.
The last of the absolutes is more of an opinion than a scientific fact. I believe that you will be more successful at putting if you have a good imagination in visualizing how the putt will roll, and able to use feel to duplicate that visualization. One cannot be taught either, but both can be developed. One of the methods I use in teaching imagination and visualization is to have you look at the green as if it were a hard, shiny solid sheet of granite. Seeing the undulations in the granite, if you were to roll the ball like a marble, how would the ball react to the various slopes and breaks? To help a student develop better feel, I have them stand on the green facing the hole, hold the golf ball in their dominate hand using only the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and roll the golf ball to the hole, trying to get it to stop as it falls into the hole. After a few successful rolls, they then will take their putting stance and repeat the procedure. Some students are continually doing these things as drills when their putting goes sour.
Next time we will go into the hot topic of standard vs. belly vs. broom/long putters and how to determine which is best for you … if the USGA will let us. Until then.
More stroke-saving advice for seniors: Love thy hybrid
Continuing our series for seniors, this is a topic I’ve written about before but it is so important to our senior games, it is worth revisiting.
Some of you may be aware of the “24/38 rule.” It deals with the idea that most golfers lose consistency with an iron that is less than 24 degrees of loft and over 38 inches long. That USED TO BE a 3-iron. And I always thought even that was marginal—a 3-iron for a middle handicap players has always been a bit “iffy.”
Then came the “juicing era” when manufacturers started making golf clubs with much less loft and some added length. Now, that “24/38” rule applies to 5-irons! The cavity back era gave way to some great innovations, particularly forgiveness, but it also introduced stronger lofts and added some length. For example, today’s 6-iron, on average is 31 degrees and 37.5-38.o inches. The point is this: Many golfers do not have sufficient speed to hit 5-irons, maybe even 6-irons, from the fairway!
This goes for golf in general, but in senior golf, it is even more important to remember!
What to do? Voila! The invention of HYBRIDS! We have to understand one simple golf impact principle: Getting the golf ball airborne from the turf requires speed. If we lack that speed, we need clubs with a different construction. The HYBRIDS are built to help launch the golf ball. Basically, it works like this: when the center of gravity is further from the hitting area (face), it is easier to launch the golf ball. On an iron that CG is directly behind the ball. In a hybrid, it is moved back, so the ball can be launched higher. There are other factors, but basically, that’s it.
My personal recommendation is as follows
- If your driver clubhead speed in under 85 MPH, your iron set might go 7-PW
- Driver speed 85-90 MPH, your iron set might be 6-PW
- Driver speed 90-100, your iron set might be 5-PW
- Driver speed over 100, you can choose the set make-up with which you are comfortable
As this piece is largely for seniors, I’m assuming most of you are in one of the first two categories. If so, your game may be suffering from your set make-up. The most common swing issue I see in seniors is “hang back” or the inability to get weight through at impact. This is often the result of a club shaft too stiff, OR clubs too difficult to launch—example, a 3-iron. Please DO NOT beat yourself up! Use equipment that is easier to hit and particularly easier to launch.
The question invariably arises, what about fairway woods of similar loft? They are fine if you do not mind the added length. The great thing about hybrids is they are only slightly longer than similarly lofted irons. My advice is to seniors is to get with a pro, get on a launch monitor, find your speed and launch conditions and go from there.
Note: I am NOT a fitter, and I DO NOT sell clubs of any kind. But I do know, as a teacher, that hybrids should be in most seniors’ bags.
Want more help with your swing? I have an on-line swing analysis service. If you are interested in a “look” here it is.
Clement: Long and short bunker shots
It happens to all of us where: We get short-sided and need to put a shot together to save the furniture. The short bunker shot can really be a challenge if you do not have the right task to perform it and can result in you wasting a shot in the bunker or letting the shot get away from you because you don’t want to leave that delicate shot in the bunker.
And of course, so many of you are afraid to put a full swing on a longer bunker shot because of the dreaded skull over the green!
We have the easy solutions to all of the above right here and the other videos I have, which are great complements to this one including an oldie but goodie…and this one with Chantal, my yoga teacher.
The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training
If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”
Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.
In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.
The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.
[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]
Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.
Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.
So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!
Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers
There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.
If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.
My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).
Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.
Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.
If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.
Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.
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