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Hamilton: A trick I give my students to make their ball position automatic

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The author, Scott Hamilton has created a comprehensive video series on his keys to hitting the driver. He has made the first seven videos of the series free to GolfWRX readers. You can check them out here or check out his website, OnTOURgolf.com.

A good setup is the catalyst to the chain of events in your golf swing that makes good impact possible. If you make a mistake early, you spend the rest of the swing trying to compensate for it. Instead of a good first move that sets in motion a chain of other good moves, you get a bad move that requires recovery throughout the swing. That’s why what you do before you hit your driver is so important.

I made a full series on how I teach the driver for my website, but I made all the pre-swing videos free because getting the start right will help a ton of people.

In the video above, I talk about driver ball position. Having your ball position up near your front foot is nothing new. It’s probably one of the few things you won’t find many Tour players or coaches disagreeing about. Even so, I see bad ball positions all the time.

There are lots of reasons why players might not follow the age old advice of playing the ball near their front foot. Having the ball way up in the stance for the driver can just feel funny when it’s the only shot played that way. That’s why it’s easy to let the ball creep toward the middle of your stance, where it feels more comfortable. Watch the video to learn the trick I give my students to make their ball position automatic.

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Currently teaching 14 PGA Tour players, Scott Hamilton is a staple on the PGA Tour range each week. In 2015, a poll of PGA Tour players conducted by Golf Digest ranked him as the No. 2 instructor on the PGA Tour. His players like him for his ability to conduct a complete analysis of their games and return a simple solution to help them play better. “You get the result you want without all the big words.” as Scott often says.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Derick S

    May 3, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Mr Hamilton,
    Just signed up for your membership…
    Thanks for the video post.. Was straight to the point, easy to understand, and very helpful…
    Even though I’m 3 handicap, I still tend to put the ball back in my stance here and there….
    For long irons, say 3i-6i, do you set up differently or stay the same!!
    These are the clubs i have trouble with… I do got a 2 hybrid 16.5* and hit it like my driver and FW Woods…
    Any tips for the long irons would be much appreciated Sir…
    1SG Derick S.
    U.S. Army (retired)
    2nd Ranger Bn
    RLTW

  2. Mark H. Davis

    Apr 21, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    DAMN! That’s good advice. Much appreciated. (PS: this is exactly how I putt, to find that ball position too.)

  3. Michael

    Apr 20, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Great video Scott. So for guys who block or push the ball out to the right do you think on top of moving the ball well forward in your stance that also putting the ball writing visible on the back when you tee it up and then make sure you can read it all the way till impact is a good idea?

    • Scott Hamilton

      Apr 21, 2016 at 12:18 am

      Man- I don’t know. I can’t say that I’ve ever known of a good player telling me that they try to see the ball until impact. If I wash pushing it- I’d be looking to get the face more shut at impact or the path less in-to-out.

  4. Carter baker

    Apr 20, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I wish I had learned this trick much earlier in my career

  5. Shallowface

    Apr 20, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Really appreciating these tips. Thanks, Scott!

  6. Cory

    Apr 20, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Love the forward ball position except that it leads to open shoulders. How do you combat that?

    • mhendon

      Apr 20, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      You tilt your shoulders back in other words lowering your right shoulder. If you do it right you won’t open your shoulders.

    • Scott Hamilton

      Apr 20, 2016 at 7:04 pm

      You’re right, sometimes people open their shoulders when they setup to a ball in the front of their stance. Get a friend to check it for you or use your phone to help yourself.

  7. Ben

    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    this was a really good video Scott. Concise and short and to the point, would love to hear more.

    • Scott Hamilton

      Apr 20, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      There’s a free video in a course called “Solid Contact Series” that I did that gives another good system for ball position with your irons. You can get in on the homepage of my site.
      http://www.ontourgolf.com

  8. Matt

    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    I’m guilty of this in my golf game. Ball position has creeped back towards inside of my left heel. True enough, my fairways hit % has dropped too. Thanks!

  9. Ian

    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Great, do you have any tricks for ball position throughout the bag?

    • Ben

      Apr 20, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      I wonder if you could take this same idea except right before you move your trailing foot back, move your leading foot forward a certain amount (depending on club).

      • Scott Hamilton

        Apr 20, 2016 at 1:20 pm

        That would just mean that your ball would be off your rear foot instead. For other clubs-I like when the ball is placed the same distance inside the front foot and then drop the rear foot. It’s similar to this technique.

    • Scott Hamilton

      Apr 20, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Hey Ian- I got a similar question above. There’s a video in my “Solid Contact Series” that goes over the rest of the bag. You get free access when you sign up for the free membership level. Just go to http://www.ontourgolf.com and sign up.

      • Ian

        Apr 23, 2016 at 1:16 pm

        Hi Scott. I took your advice and signed up on your site. When I saw your video on iron shaft lean/face direction something clicked. I used to have shaft lean but got rid of it over the last year (thinking that it was better not to have it). Played this weekend with shaft lean again and my ball striking was significantly better! 12 greens and 4 birdies (not a brag, just enjoying the game again). So thanks again! Oh and not a hint of a shank (which was starting to become common place).

        • Scott Hamilton

          Apr 24, 2016 at 10:03 am

          That’s really cool man. Thanks for joining the site. Shaft lean is critical for good iron play. Post your swing up in the Swing Review section and I’ll give it a look.

  10. Joe S

    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Thank you. This was very good and simple!

  11. Scott Hamilton

    Apr 20, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Hey GolfWrx-
    I didn’t travel to this weeks TOUR event in San Antonio. I’m teaching today but will check back here later to answer questions. So post em up!

    -Scott

  12. RS

    Apr 20, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Anyone else getting a privacy setting error when trying to play the video?

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Apr 20, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Sorry, RS. Give us a few minutes to sort this out, and please check back.

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Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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WATCH: How slow-motion training can lead to more power and consistency

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Eddie Fernandes has made big changes to his swing (and his power and consistency have gone up) by mastering the key moves in slow motion before he speeds them up. Everyone should use this kind of slow motion training to make real changes to their swing!

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WATCH: What you really need to know to control the direction of your shots

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In this video, Top-100 Teacher Tom Stickney shows you how to better control the direction of your shots by understanding how both the club face and swing path determine where your ball goes.

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