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Changing neural pathways to make a swing change

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I’ll bet that you can’t ride the bicycle in the video clip below. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, it’s a bike. How hard can it be?”

Watch the video clip below, and then read on.

Every time you pick up a golf magazine, take a lesson, or get a swing tip from a buddy you probably say to yourself:

[quote_box_center]“How hard can it be to add this little gem of golf swing magic? I can’t wait to go to the range and work it in before my weekend game.”[/quote_box_center]

The intrigue of the game of golf is that the golf swing should be very much like riding a bike. Once you learn to ride one type, you can easily adapt your skill set and ride a wide range of bikes: single-speed, 10-speed, mountain bikes, motor bikes, etc. Most golfers apply this same mindset to swing changes. Once they have the “basics” of the swing down, they think that making changes to it might require a little more thought, but in the end they will be very quickly doable. As the video shows, “very quickly doable” becomes a relative phrase.

The brain is an amazing super computer, capable of directing and coordinating complex motor and mental skills. Once a movement pathway becomes embedded into it, however, it becomes very set in its ways. It not only took Destin eight months to learn to ride the backward bike; he also struggled to recreate the neural pathway that allowed him to properly ride a regular bike, which he had done successfully for decades.

The bottom line here, as it relates to the golf swing, is that meaningful and lasting swing changes and game improvement are not going to happen by getting to the range once a week for an hour, and then teeing it up in your Saturday round. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen, just as none of the “bike riders” in the video could get on the very normal-looking bike and successfully ride it without days or even weeks of practice.

Tom-Duke-Bike-vs-Swing

It took Destin working every day for 8 months, 5-10 minutes a day, to finally reprogram his neural pathways to successfully ride the backward bike. The golf swing has many similarities to riding a bike — two arms performing two different movements, two legs performing two different movements, core balance and weight shift requirements, timing and sequence requirements, hand eye coordination, etc.

Learning a new swing, or maintaining a successful one, requires what I call a constant approach…. especially the older we get. The more consistent the refreshening process, the less likely you will be to revert back to your old ways. If you took the old highway for 30 years, you are going to have to constantly remind yourself after starting your car to make sure you take the turn for the new bypass. And even despite this conscious awareness of trying to take the new route, it’s amazing how often we find ourselves still getting on the old highway.

So yes, this is why the game of golf is so frustrating. But here are a few things to think about.

First, it is much easier to engrain a movement pattern if it’s natural, or in accordance with the laws of nature. The point here is that the more things we can “let” happen in the golf swing, instead of trying to make them happen, the less tension and compensations are required. It will also be easier to develop and consistently use these new neural pathways.

Second, we know we can considerably speed up the process of creating a new neural pathway if we are constantly refreshing the correct movement. Ten minutes a day verses 1 hour a week will yield faster results. Note that I said “correct movement,” not “correct positions.” Without getting too deep into the rabbit hole of neuroscience, the Holonomic brain theory supports that people learn motor skills not by linking a progression of positions together like line-by-line computer code, but instead by storing the entire movement as a neural 3-D hologram. An example is children who learn to throw their first rock not by being taught a progression of, say, 1,000 positions, but instead by watching a friend or sibling simply perform the motion, storing that entire movement memory, and then recalling it when interested in performing it.

As it pertains to the golf swing, this theory supports that not only is performing repetitions of a new movement a key in learning it, but to both feel and see the movement will only make your swing hologram more vivid.

I often ask students, “Do you have a perfectly clear image in your mind of what your golf swing looks like?” Very rarely do I get a prompt reply in the affirmative.

We have all had the experience where we go to the range and machine gun through hundreds of balls, followed up by a trunk slam and a “what in the heck just happened?” moment. Not only could you not see yourself, but in the haze of firing ball after ball you most likely only felt and were aware of your brewing frustration. If you don’t have a vivid image and feel for your movements, what are you expected to recall when you hit the start button on your golf swing?

A great way to increase your see and feel awareness, as well as to take a more “constant approach” to improve your golf swing (or maintain good form) is to incorporate no-ball mirror training into your regular practice routine. Positioning two standing mirrors in a corner that will let you see your movements. By removing the golf ball from the equation, you will instantly see how much ball-bound tension you have, as well be able to better focus on seeing and feeling your movements. Eyes-open, slow-motion swings will increase your visual awareness, and eyes-closed swings will further enhance what you are feeling.

Time and schedule conflicts that make it tough for many golfers to get to the range should no longer solely determine success, or lack thereof, on the golf course. Daily movement memory, no-ball training works in the convenience of your home, even for 5 or 10 minutes a day, will more quickly take the training wheels off the swing movements you are interested in performing.

For more information on these and other no-ball swing training routines, check out windandsling.com.

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Tom Duke is the Founder of Wind and Sling Golf Swing (WindandSling.com) and The Original Golf Company, and developer of the No-Roll Release™ Swing Trainer. He is a swing coach and long drive specialist who has trained extensively under the tutelage of Mike Dunaway, who many consider the greatest driver of the golf ball in history. Duke holds a Masters in Business Administration from George Mason University, and is certified by the internationally recognized AO Foundation for Intraoperative Spine and Orthopedics. He earned Collegiate All-America, is an Ironman Triathlete USA, and a proud benefactor to the St. Judes' Children's Hospital.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Brain Game. » Golf in Portugal

  2. Pingback: July 2015 Happenings From John & Susan | John T Fitness

  3. mikee

    Jul 2, 2015 at 7:00 am

    There is excellent scientific research confirming this theory

  4. jargon

    Jul 1, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve been working with this technique for 2 years now …. it’s been difficult if not impossible to change my swing . it’s so myelinated in ! I’ve been using the mirrors now with out the distraction of the golf ball and am making slow progress with help from my swing coach Lucas Wald .

  5. Kyle

    Jul 1, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Great article.

  6. Gareth

    Jun 29, 2015 at 3:06 am

    Great Article Tom

  7. John

    Jun 28, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Tremendous article.

  8. Jim

    Jun 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Great article thanks Tom!

  9. David

    Jun 26, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Great article. This runs parallel to The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, in talking about the programming of myelin to make consistent movements.

  10. Derek Wall

    Jun 26, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Google “IKKOS” for some pretty amazing research and products regarding altering neural pathways “permanently.” The product was developed by a high level swim coach, but Sean is refining it for use in other sports… golf included.

    • Tom Duke

      Jun 26, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Hey Derek…thanks for your interest…already have reached out to the Ikkos team!

  11. other paul

    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Very interesting. But I have found it not that difficult to make changes when they are drastic. 2 weeks ago I had never hit a ball over 280 on course without the help of wind. Today with a new swing I started on Saturday I hit 315 (won a beer for it to). And I haven’t had issues with reverting to an old swing. More like forgetting to consciously add features if anything.

  12. Alex

    Jun 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Can’t I have my brain changed?

  13. Adam

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    this was an incredibly interesting read.
    Very enlightening! Makes me think about where else in life this applies…

  14. Cons

    Jun 25, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Solid article.

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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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