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Beat the wind with the “no hands knockdown”

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Until the arrival of Doppler Radar launch monitors such as Flightscope, there was never really an effective way to check out the ball striking claims tips we got from other players.

Golf is still the rare sport where the best players in the world help each other with techniques they are trying to learn. Recently, I watched Rod Pampling try to teach Ryan Palmer how to hit a driver off the deck on No. 18 at The Memorial. After a few swings, Palmer was hitting low screamers out into the tight, sloping fairway.

During my playing career, I got to play a round with 1976 U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate. The weather that day was not ideal. The wind was blowing 30 mph and it was cold — not the best conditions for flying a golf ball. We were good and cold by the time we got to hole No. 15, which was not normally a tough par-3. But on this day, what was nothing more than a standard 8 iron on a normal day required something more low and boring. Both of us grabbed 5 irons and had at it.

Jerry hit a low bullet to the middle of the green. The wind only slowed the ball down enough for it to land on the green; it didn’t knock it down in a dangerous way.

My swing at the nickel took off hot and low. Then it began to stall and lost momentum to fight onward. Just about the time I expected it to land safely, it splashed down a woeful 10 yards short of dry land.

It was here that JP offered me this information. He told me that Lee Trevino once told him that if you wanted to keep the ball from ballooning in the wind, you need to keep your hands out of it on the backswing.

[quote_box_center]”Keep them really still and do not hinge the club a lot,” he said. [/quote_box_center]

Remember, this was a time when pro golfers still played golf balls that spun way too much, so there was a often a need to be able to keep the spin off the shot.

Once I got the time, I practiced the shot and sure enough the ball stayed down without any urge to rise. It is especially effective when you’re in the trees and need to keep the ball under the limbs for a long distance before the ball enters clear airspace. Everyone can relate to that time you moved the ball back in your stance, leaned the handle way forward and tried to knock it down low only to see the ball shoot straight up and into the overhanging limbs. This little tip kept the ball from doing that.

Recently, I was using Flightscope and decided to put the technique to the test and see what the numbers had to tell me about the ball and club interaction

I hit three different shots with a 7 iron.

  1. Standard full swing (ball position under the logo on the left of my shirt)
  2. Normal knockdown (ball position under my right eye)
  3. “No hands knockdown” (ball position under my right eye)

Here is what the data screen looked like (click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 10.28.04 AM

Here are the launch screens for each shot: Shot 1 on the left, Shot 2 in the middle and Shot 3 on the right. You can see the ball flight got lower with each shot.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 10.27.47 AM

A bit of transparency may offer some clarity about the numbers. The grass on the range where I work is not tightly mown. It is a nice customer length where the ball sits up, which differs from the tight conditions that you see on Tour where you can really have control over the golf ball. As I look at the data, there are some values that I know are potentially exaggerated by the conditions. Nevertheless, what can we deduce other than trajectory for each shot I hit? What changed from shot to shot, especially from Shot 2 to Shot 3 that would have kept the ball lower?

It’s obvious that the distance dropped significantly from Shot 1-3 with the difference being a whole 20 yards of carry. The hinging of the wrists is a definite power source, so I am not shocked by the distance gap. Also, the height dropped 30 feet, which was obvious to the naked eye. Shot 3 was quite lower than Shot 1, even on grass that was like using a tee.

For the four remaining categories, I want to really focus in on dynamic loft, spin, spin loft and angle of attack (AoA). We have confirmed what Lee told Jerry and what Jerry told me is true. Take the hand action out in the backswing and you will hit it lower. But what do these three numbers confirm about that?

First, when you take out hand action, you take out some of the opening and closing action of the clubface. When the hands “normally” set, the clubface will continue to open. Yes, you can impose your own will on it and do it wrong, but if done “naturally” the face will continue to open thereby adding loft. So the less your hands set, the more the clubface stays shut and the lower the ball launches. That is represented in the dynamic loft number at impact.

There is a downward trend in dynamic loft from the full swing value of 36.5 degrees.

  1. The “normal knockdown” has a dynamic loft of 31.8 degrees.
  2. The “no hands knockdown” has a dynamic loft of 24.5 degrees.

You can also see the same thing in the vertical launch values with a big jump between Shot 2 and Shot 3. So quieting my hands brought the dynamic loft down by more than 7 degrees at impact. That is a lot and will keep the ball down!

Notice the spin values increasing, however, and remember what I said about the turf conditions. I give the credit for the increased spin to lies that were a little cleaner, because all three shots were hit right on the middle of the face.

The AoA of the shots also remained very static — there were only a minor few changes in the value between the three shots. One thing I see when I first try to teach a low shot to a player is they think they need to “tomahawk” down on the ball as hard as they can and bury the club halfway up to the neck into the ground to keep the ball down. Once I get them to understand that keeping the shot down is about dynamic loft and how the hands control the club, they stop chopping at it to keep it down and begin to lean the shaft to have a shallower AoA so the ball stays nice and low.

My last point is about spin loft, which is the difference between AoA and the dynamic loft at impact. These values follow the trend of everything else we have looked at. From the full swing shot to the last shot, the numbers decreased. In turn, that produced a lower ball flight that penetrated the wind more and stayed low.

It is very cool to be able to test out shots like this on Flightscope, especially when it’s something another Tour player has shared to help you learn a new shot. After all, the game is about playing shots and the more shots you have the more fun you can have playing the game.

So what did we learn here?

  1. Keeping the hands quiet will help to keep the ball down.
  2. Less hand action going back with the ball positioned back-of-center in your stance gives you less loft at impact and lowers dynamic loft, spin loft and vertical launch.
  3. Keeping shots down for a long time over a long distance is a vertical launch value promoted by firm hands in the backswing.
  4. All of this brings down your overall height and produces a low, penetrating shot.
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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Dpavs

    Jan 16, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I’m not sure of the benefit of all this… sure the trajectory is lower but if you look the accuracy is progressively worse and the spin progressively higher.

    • SRSLY

      Jan 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      And the trajectory is hardly lower per shot. I had already posted this point in the comments and it was deleted. Definitely disappointed in WRX.

  2. frank the tank

    Jan 16, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Isn’t this essentially the same as a 3\4 swing back in the stance? Lower launch angle and less spin due to less hinge equaling less power?

    Your “low” shots in the example don’t seem to go much lower and have way more spin. Could you explain how this will cut through the wind?

  3. Tanner

    Jan 16, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Thanks, Rob. Would this be a good swing for a higher capper whose arms collapse in the backswing?

  4. I am Tigger

    Jan 16, 2015 at 3:07 am

    It’s harder to do it with a lot of the modern shafts that have been designed to jump the ball up in the air quickly THEN flatter at the height, like a lot of the lighter weight shafts with soft tips or shafts that bend a lot in the middle. You’d have to go at least a couple of clubs up, may be even 3 clubs, just to try and keep it low enough these days. The balls also take off so much quicker off the face now, even without spin, they just jump away so quickly that you really have to almost just sweep the ball flat and not engage any kind of downward hit on these new balls.

  5. Rob Strano

    Jan 15, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for your question Ronald…
    What you want to do in the backswing is feel like the hands hold the same position they do at address as it relates to the club shaft. Think of making a letter “I” in the backswing. In your normal swing when the left arm is parallel to the ground the shaft is vertical at a 90* angle to your left arm forming the letter “L”. Keep that from happening by keeping the hands calm. Now I am not saying get tense and grip it tight and do it. I am communicating controlling the amount of hinge action. There will always be a certain amount of hinge that happens, we are just trying to limit that amount to half of normal or better. Think about the beginners you see at the course that when you watch them have no hand action and hit the ball really low. That is what the cause of this move is but with a really good player you hit bullets through the heaviest winds. And trust me, that day described above wasn’t even a good day for kite flying, let alone hitting a golf ball, and JP just whistled it right through a heavy wind.
    Hope this helps you understand the move to try to make.

    • Philip

      Jan 15, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks, that is what I was thinking how it would be done.

  6. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 15, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    You’re giving us numbers, coach, but what we need is the technique!! I suspect that golfers can figure out the no-hands on the downswing, but what does the backswing look/feel like? Thanks for your time today.

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Instruction

Stop Practicing, Start Training. Part 2: Putting

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This article is co-written with Zach Parker. Zach is the former director of golf at the Gary Gilchrist and Bishop’s Gate golf academies. Zach is a golf coach, an expert in skill acquisition, and he has years of experience setting up effective training scenarios for golfers of varying abilities. 

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed in detail how and why we should shift our focus from practicing to training. Specifically, making training more “game like” by incorporating the following three principles

  • Spacing – adding time between training or learning tasks. Not hitting ball after ball with no break!
  • Variability – mixing up the tasks, combining driving with chipping for example
  • Challenge Point – making sure that you are firstly trying to achieve or complete a task, and secondly that the task is set an appropriate difficulty for you

For more detailed insight to this topic, check out the podcast that Zach recently recorded with Game Like Training Golf

This is with the aim of avoiding the following frustrations that occur when training is performed poorly

  • Grinding on the putting green but not improving
  • Being unable to transfer performance from putting green to course
  • Finding practice boring
  • Plateaus in performance

Practice can be frustrating

In Part 1 we covered long game, and in Part 2 it’s time to address putting. Training this crucial part of the game is often overlooked and almost always performed poorly with very little intent. On course, we never hit putts from the same distance (unless you’re in the habit of missing two footers!), yet when practicing its common to repeatedly hit putts from the same place. Our length of stroke, reaction to speed and slope and time between putts are constantly changing on course, so it would make sense to replicate that in our training right?

In the practice circuit below we have incorporated spacing by leaving large gaps between putts, variability by mixing up the tasks and challenge point by introducing hurdle tasks that must be completed before moving on to the next station.

Station 1

Learning task: Three rehearsals with a specific focus, in this case, using the GravityFit TPro to bring awareness to posture and arm-body connection.

Completion task: Must make putt from 6 feet, downhill,  left to right-to-left break.

Station 2

Learning task: Three rehearsals with specific TPro focus; in this case posture for eye-line and using bands for arm-body connection.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 30-40 feet, uphill. Add drawback to five feet for more difficulty.

Station 3

Learning task: Three rehearsals with specific TPro focus again.

Completion task: Must two-putt from 20-30  ft, right to left break. Add drawback to five feet for more difficulty.

You can either have a go at this circuit or create your own. There are no set rules, just make sure to include a mixture of tasks (variability) that are appropriate to your level of ability (challenge Point) with plenty of time between repetitions (spacing).

For more information on the featured GravityFit equipment, check out the website here

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Instruction

Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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