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The swing change that led to Aaron Baddeley’s 1st win in 4 years

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Tour Radius – Scott Hamilton from OnTour Golf on Vimeo.

When you look at the stats, the difference between the game’s top players can sometimes be difficult to sort out. The fractional differences in each skill between players can add up to a great performance or a missed cut. As an instructor, it can be difficult to decide what to work on when the statistics don’t point to a glaring weakness.

That wasn’t the case when I started working with Aaron Baddeley. It was clear from the start that we had to work on his full swing. The best he had ranked tee-to-green since his last PGA Tour win four seasons ago was 157th. Each year he managed to keep his card by being a legendary putter. In those same four years since his last victory, he never ranked worse than 8th in Strokes Gained Putting (he even ranked 1st in 2015). The stats made it very clear. Aaron needed to improve his performance on full shots. My task was simple, if I could help turn the Tour’s best putter into a better ball striker, success would follow.

Last week, Aaron won his first event since 2011 at The Barbosol Championship in Alabama. Ranking 8th in both Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and Putting, his performance with his full swing finally matched his putter. The combination added up to victory.  In an interview after his win, Aaron mentioned us finding the root of his problem and the hard work we’ve done to fix it.

I made a video about his swing change earlier this year, and thought I’d share it with everyone here at GolfWRX.

Aaron’s Swing Change

Applying It to Your Game

This video is part of Scott Hamilton’s “The Iron Swing” series from OnTOURGolf.com. You can watch the first nine chapters of the series by signing up here. 

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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.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Dominick Miernicki

    Aug 22, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    The premier online golf community. Industry news, equipment reviews, tour photos, discussion forums, and classifieds.

  2. Kb

    Jul 30, 2016 at 11:54 am

    You’d know, considering you’re a large woman yourself

  3. Ramrod Ray Reardon

    Jul 23, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Swing fixes for pros are largely useless for the average hacker who cannot move their upper and lower body independently. Pros can. Back pain awaits people trying to stay in the same spine angle throughout the swing. Not a great thing to copy IMO.

    • bobilla

      Jul 29, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      I don’t think you’re doing it right.

  4. tom

    Jul 22, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Scott looks like Roger Clemens.

  5. don d.

    Jul 22, 2016 at 8:01 am

    a win is a win . no masters though. aaron is one of the good guys. great in pro ams.

  6. gunna22

    Jul 22, 2016 at 3:34 am

    Such an annoying accent

    • Tyler

      Jul 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      That’s all you got out of this article? Which state/country are you from that you don’t have an ugly accent to someone from another state/country? Keep your annoying comments to yourself bro.

  7. 300 Yard Pro

    Jul 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Weak field. That’s why he won.

  8. Christian

    Jul 21, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Did he need to flatten the lie of his irons after the swing change?

    • bobizzle

      Jul 29, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      His initial swing fault was coming out of his spine angle, straightening out, and getting the handle a lot higher at contact. If you maintain the correct spine angle and tilt down and through contact by focusing on keeping your butt back, the swing has to flatten in order to make a solid strike. Your arms will naturally want to fall almost vertically, placing your hands lower and closer to your body. That little bob down and back to straight with the lead leg at or just after contact helps whip the club head through the impact zone. Tiger did that to an exaggerated degree, I believe to his detriment. Didn’t help his left knee out much, or his current back issues, but the demands and forces he put on his body year after year have seemingly come home to roost in the form of a spectacular but shortened career. Know your own body. Swing accordingly.

  9. YackNWilt

    Jul 21, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Lets not forget why Badds went awry to begin with: he got suckered by Stack & Tilt !!!!
    That’s what got him all out of whack in the first place.
    Now he’s back to a more normal move into the ball. He used to swing great back when he won the Australian.
    Just needed to get his old swing back before he went to Stack

  10. SB

    Jul 21, 2016 at 1:28 am

    happy to see aaron back on winner track! good training also, i should give it a try.

  11. kev

    Jul 20, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    sure would like to understand why the butt comes in or goat humping. is it because of pushing off the right foot too hard?

    • Jack

      Jul 20, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      I used to do this, because it felt like I was getting more power off it. It was so ingrained that I felt like I was not going to hit it as far if I didn’t do it. I got rid of it mostly through watching instant replays of my swing every time, and just working on hip rotation. With the hip rotating instead of humping air (LOL) it just provided more power rather than less. It’s important to keep that spine angle intact as well. This really helped my issue with drawing the ball too much as bumping the hips towards the ball caused my wrist angle to become flat and the club was more upright promoting a more close clubface and causing the ball to fly/curve left.

    • Kevin B

      Jul 20, 2016 at 10:39 pm

      I did this move because my backswing was to fast and my lower body couldnt catch up and I would goat hump sometimes even OTT.

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Instruction

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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