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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

Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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Instruction

WATCH: How to execute the “Y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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Instruction

WATCH: Try the “battering ram” drill to achieve ball-first contact

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Yes, you heard me, one of the best drills we have is the battering ram drill. It is awesome for getting the relationship between body turn and arm swing correct, and improving your impact conditions. Enjoy the video, and hope this helps!

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