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Mitchell: The value of a team in golf instruction

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I love being around smart people, especially the experts within their own professions or passions. I feel truly blessed that I have a wonderful team around me that helps me grow, and help my students improve quickly.

A recent example of this team work took place at my practice facility, when I asked a biomechanist, Roy Khoury, who specializes in golf performance, for his input with one of my student’s golf technique. Roy is a TPI Certified Level 3 Golf Fitness Instructor, and runs the Fit Fix Studio in Newport Beach, Calif. 

I had hit a plateau with my student’s learning curve, and was not satisfied with our progress. For the purposes of this story, we’ll call her Isabel (not her real name).

Every lesson, Isabel left with better results and shot making, but always returned the following lesson with some form of relapse. I am a firm believer that there are many ways to solve a problem in the game of golf. Unfortunately, every solution I provided for Isabel behaved like a temporary fix versus a permanent solution.

This was not a question of Isabel not paying attention or not putting in the work in between practice sessions — she was very motivated. Therefore, I wanted to explore the possibility of whether Isabel had physical limitations (possibly from a recent accident, or a lack of strength and/or flexibility), or whether she simply needed to trigger different movement patterns to achieve better technique.

I am always thankful for my initial training with David Leadbetter. Fixing the cause, versus the effects, was stressed time and again to achieve the fastest, most effective changes to a student’s technique. With the help of another expert, Isabel will continue to move forward with her technique and her golf game, because a primary cause was correctly evaluated.

Let’s share the details of this specific example to highlight how Roy helped Isabel achieve better technique and results. The technical need for Isabel was a different winding and unwinding of her body motion. Her lower body led her backswing, while her upper body led her downswing (reverse pivot). This technique produced inconsistent ball contact, erratic ball flights and a loss of distance.

TimMitchell

An example of a golfer with a “reverse pivot.”

In the photo above, Roy is simulating Isabel’s technique. Note how the trail knee and hip are outside the yellow, which represent’s Roy’s Address position. Note also how Roy’s target shoulder is closer to the target compared with his target hip. These are classic reverse pivot traits.

Roy conducted a series of physical screens that tested Isabel’s strengths, limitations and movement pattern. Each “test” was administered with the intent of identifying the needs of Isabel’s body, with the goal of helping her improve her technique and ball hitting skills.

After a series of exercises were conducted, two screens provided the most glaring results. First was the overhead squat, where Isabel’s knees collapsed laterally during the squatting motion.

The second screen with detrimental results was the single leg balance test. Isabel had a challenging time staying in balance on her trail leg for a sustained period of time. Plus, when Isabel was able to maintain her balance, her motion was very unstable and wobbly.

Both tests showed a lack of ability to stabilize the trail hip, which is a necessary skill to encourage a better pivot with the lower body during the backswing. The better pivot should help change the wind and unwinding sequence of Isabel’s instinctive motion.

The driving range fix was to give Isabel an exercise to help her body create more stability by training with an opposing lateral force. We wrapped a large therapy resistance band around Isabel’s trail leg during her swinging motion. The task for Isabel was to resist against our pulling motion of her trail leg, away from the target.

This extra force encouraged Isabel’s lower body to be self-correcting, or reflex-correcting. A reflexive fix frequently produces a quicker and more efficient fix compared to verbal cues. By changing that sequence, Isabel was more capable of having her upper body lead the backswing and lower body lead the down swing.

Isabel made significant improvements with this exercise. She also recognized that she would likely regress (like she had historically) if she did not change her instinctive movement patterns.

Roy designed an exercise program to help Isabel change those movement patterns, so she will have a better chance of changing her technique permanently. Isabel understands that by changing her technique, she will have a better chance of achieving her golfing goals more quickly.

Having additional experts around me has helped me grow as a teacher and my students  have achieved faster, more permanent results. If you’ve encountered a plateau with your technique, I encourage you to ask your teaching professional to introduce you to a golf fitness specialist. Together, they may introduce the next component to help you progress with your golf game.

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Certified Teaching Professional at the Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Coast, CA. Ranked as one of the best teachers in California & Hawaii by Golf Digest Titleist Performance Institute Certified www.youtube.com/uranser

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Chuck

    Apr 10, 2015 at 11:16 am

    I suspect I won’t be the only person to look at the top-of-page photo of Ben Crane, and think, “That sort of ‘process’ embodies so much of what is wrong in modern golf! The slowest player on the PGA Tour!”

    Now, as for the author’s comments about the value of fitness testing and training, and the value of good instruction, I have no argument. Who could argue? It’s hard, but invaluable, on the world’s leading golf equipment website, to make the observation that “The best equipment you can buy is… lessons.”

    But let’s also not lose sight of the golden age of golf in which swings like Trevino, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Couples and Kathy Whitworth were as self-taught as they were natural.

    • marcel

      Apr 13, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      these days no one cares if you are self-taught musician or golfer or tennis player… the difference is obvious within seconds… i got lucky to get classically trained in music / composition, golf and tennis… also hitting gym 5-6x a week… crossfit conditioning and gymnastics (very toddler level tho). what I noticed is – try if you have a passion and then get coach… what i learned in tennis on my own in 10 years were eclipsed by pro 1 lesson – whats worse is that I had the bad habits which took almost 18 months to fix. in golf i tried different approach – went to driving range – i liked it and then got a coach to eliminate bad habits.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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