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What does the golf ball know? Very little, actually

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As the age of video draws to a close and the age of launch monitors begins to take over, people seem to be less concerned with “position golf” and have graduated into “numerical golf.” Obviously, there are positives and negatives with both instructional styles. I believe that in a few more years teachers will be less concerned with numbers and more focused on the ball’s flight in general.

I try to use Trackman to AUDIT what types of shots players want to hit and develop mechanical thoughts that will help them produce that desired shot. Personally, I feel that Trackman is best used to teach “feel,” NOT “positions,” because the ball doesn’t know anything more than how it’s programmed at impact to fly.

In this article, I want to help you to take all the random data aside and understand a few facets of ball flight control that will help you to become less technical on the practice tee when learning to curve the ball.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.11.26 PM

There are 26 data parameters that the Trackman can show you at impact, but I’d like to break it down so you can focus ONLY on the numbers that matter to you — because the ball doesn’t know anything… yet!

To control the ball’s curvature

First, we know that the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face angle at impact and curves away from the path with a centered hit. As Don Sargent, a Top-100 Teacher and friend of mine says, “The face sends it and the path bends it!”

So what does the ball actually know at impact, when it is fully compressed?

Path: The direction the club is moving relative to the target –right, straight or left — at maximum compression (understanding that angle of attack and swing direction are factored into this measurement).

Face Angle: The direction the club face is pointing relative to the target — right, straight or left — at maximum compression (this is during impact, NOT at address).

Face to Path: The difference between the path and the face at maximum compression (Based on centered impact. Whenever the face is left of the path at impact, the ball will curve left and vice versa).

The ball doesn’t understand anything more than the three facets listed above. Off-center horizontal hits can, however, alter your face-to-path ball programming. For example, whenever the ball has a negative face-to-path relationship, meaning that the ball should move to the left, a ball hit on the toe will exaggerate the ball’s leftward motion. If you hit the ball on the heel with the same negative face to path alignments, the ball will straighten out or even curve to the right!

It’s best to use Dr. Scholl’s Odor X Spray to figure out if you are impacting the center of the face and you will understand your total impact equation.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.11.47 PM

In this sample shot, you can see that the path was -1.0 degree left and the face was 0.2 degrees right, producing a face-to-path relationship of 0.5 degrees right — fade numbers. As you can see, the ball curved gently from left to right meaning that the ball was hit in the center of the blade. A ball hit off-center would have produced a different curvature amount either left or more rightward.

Take your time, use your spray and audit your ball’s flight. Watch where it begins and how it curves and you can determine what the face and path were doing at impact.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Chris

    Feb 8, 2015 at 10:15 am

    I enjoyed this article. Think we can get obsessed with data since there is so much of it available. Last time at the range, you could see the impact residue on my club face. I showed the instructor where I was hitting it (he was hanging out in the pro shop) and he replied, “well, what was the outcome?” I replied a slight draw or pretty much dead straight. He said go with that. The impact residue was just to the toe side of center, repeatedly. Think we all suffer from paralysis by analysis. Focus on the outcome and you will be just fine.

  2. Stretch

    Feb 5, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    M, sounds like a tired or energy depleted golfer. Snacks during the round can help down the stretch. No pun intended. Rats.

  3. Jon Silverberg

    Feb 4, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Below the second Trackman screenshot, don’t you mean a face to path relationship of 1.2 right?

  4. frendy

    Feb 4, 2015 at 11:08 am

    I try to leave my path alone and only change the face/path relationship by opening or hooding the face at address. For me it’s been a much simpler way to curve the flight of the ball than manipulating my path.

  5. Pow

    Feb 3, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    “I try to use Trackman to AUDIT what types of shots players want to hit and develop mechanical thoughts that will help them produce that desired shot. Personally, I feel that Trackman is best used to teach “feel,” NOT “positions,” because the ball doesn’t know anything more than how it’s programmed at impact to fly.”

    So you use Trackman to teach feel by processing data and providing mechanical thoughts? Wow, that is insane.

    • Jake Anderson

      Feb 4, 2015 at 3:33 am

      no. that is not what tom stickney does.

    • Anon

      Feb 6, 2015 at 3:56 am

      No, you can easily use the numbers to determine what someone should change. Rather than look at a video screen and telling someone they should be in position ‘a’ or ‘b’, Tom can tell them that he would like to see the student feel more of ‘a’ or ‘b’. The student would then be more concerned by what it feels like that what it looks like.

      TLDR; Tom is correct.

  6. Tom Stickney

    Feb 3, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    M– would guess it’s bc of your grip being too strong

  7. tom stickney

    Feb 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    M– Too much hand action through impact…work on hitting cut shots so the impact motion balances out

    • Duh

      Feb 4, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      Well there you go… You have a grip issue. Work on getting neutral especially with your right hand…

  8. tom stickney

    Feb 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Keith– Thank you

  9. tom stickney

    Feb 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Johnny– Obviously you missed this part of the text, “In this article, I want to help you to take all the random data aside and understand a few facets of ball flight control that will help you to become less technical on the practice tee when learning to curve the ball.” A few factors….

  10. Johnny P

    Feb 3, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    *no way of knowing

    sorry for the typo(s)

  11. Johnny P

    Feb 3, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    I really like most of your articles, but definitely not this one. For starters, the ball has know way of knowing anything at all about the target. In the 20 seconds I’ve thought about it, the ball knows 1) club path (Left/Right and Up/Down) 2) face angle relative to the path, also loft 3) club momentum 4) friction or something to determine spin. The only thing the ball knows is what direction it is heading (L/R U/D) and spin rates (back/side) and nothing else

  12. Keith

    Feb 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Always a great read, thank you!

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Instruction

More stroke-saving advice for seniors: Love thy hybrid

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clement: Long and short bunker shots

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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 goodieand this one with Chantal, my yoga teacher.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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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.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

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.


Dance

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

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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