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Killer Contact for Two Pennies

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One sunny, late winter afternoon I was doing some housekeeping on the Carl’s Golfland driving range in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I came upon a young lad and his father working diligently on the youngster’s swing. I sensed some frustration and anxiety from the pair as I approached. The two of them greeted me warmly and asked, “What is your go-to drill?”

I am a man of some experience. My grey locks betray my youthful enthusiasm for the game of golf and all that goes with it. I shared with them an ancient and simple, yet tried and true, swing drill. It’s one I practice in some form on nearly every full shot.

Mind you, I am not a PGA Professional and if your game needs help then please seek out one of these fine teachers. My ability was certainly formed by men and women who were called to golf instruction. I have played golf all my life with great passion. Some principals of the game are timeless and applicable to golfers at every stage of development. Yes, even you!

The Two-Penny Drill is simple, easy to remember, effective, and it can be used on the range or with a slight modification during play. This drill is familiar to my son, my dad, my wife and my friends. I recently introduced a friend to this simple exercise who is reporting great results. So, how does it work?

Place a penny about a foot in front of the ball directly on the target line. Place another penny about a foot behind the ball, again, directly on the target line. Address the ball as normal. Take your normal swing focusing on brushing away the penny on the backswing AND on the follow through. Very simple. Very effective. This is a timeless tip passed down through the ages and through the great individuals of golf.

Horace Hutchinson wrote a book entitled “Hints on Golf.” An easy read, this book is perhaps the earliest collection of tips related not only to the physical aspects of golf, but also the mental and social elements of our game. Hutchinson’s work was first published in 1886 by William Blackwood and Sons.

One key quote from this book remains timeless: “Now, the great secret of all strokes at golf…is to make the club travel as long as possible in the direction in which you wish the ball to go.” Mr. Hutchinson is not alone in this school of thought. Arnold Palmer, arguably the most influential person ever to touch the game of golf, gave similar advice nearly a century later.

The King said, “Begin every swing smoothly and without breaking your wrists. You have to take it straight back in one piece as they say. Strive to do this for the first 12 inches the clubhead moves, and you’ve got the swing practically licked. Starting the club in this way gets your whole body into the act, from feet to shoulders.”

Mr. Palmer further advised, “One way to achieve maximum distance while sweeping the ball away is to fully extend yourself, both on your backswing and on your follow through….It is the full extension that (1) helps me fully stretch the big muscles of my body and legs and (2) flattens out my clubhead arc in the hitting area so that it is travelling at ball height for maximum distance before and after impact.

In an effort to further validate my simple drill, I consulted with Dick Bury, a PGA Professional since 1956 who still teaches three days a week at Carl’s Golfland. Mr. Bury confirmed that the Two-Penny Drill is not only legitimate, but also simple and universally applicable. Mr. Bury added that golf instruction can become very complicated to the beginner with the advent of advanced golf analysis technology. In short, Mr. Bury fully endorsed the Two-Penny Drill.

As our conversation continued, we concluded that with a slight adjustment, the simple Two-Penny Drill could teach a developing golfer to hit a fade or a draw. Simply place the front penny about one half inch to the right and the back penny one half inch to the left to learn the draw. To learn that sweet baby fade simply reverse the adjustment.

Try the Two-Penny Drill to hit more solid shots and to learn to draw or fade the ball. This simple and effective tip can also be taken to the course. While in competition you cannot use your trusty pennies, on nearly every shot I look for an imperfection in front of my ball about a foot away — either straight through or offset to move the ball.

The Two-Penny Drill will quickly become your go-to drill when things go awry or when you sense the need to get back to the basics, as we all feel from time to time. Bring a few pennies with you as occasionally you will get it just right and blast one on to the range. Be sure to reset your pennies prior to each swing. Play well and always remember my friends, golf is fun!

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David “Millsy” Millsop has been passionate about the game of golf and all that goes with it for over 50 years. As a kid, his Mom would drop him off at River Bend Golf Course in Hastings, Mich., on her way to work each summer day and pick him up on the way home. Those formative days were spent not only golfing,but helping out at the course. Pro shop, food and beverage, and even turf work were a part of his early days. Millsy played high school golf and competed in a number of amateur tournaments over the next few decades. He currently works as a Golf Equipment Specialist for Carl’s Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He's fascinated by the advances in equipment and club fitting technology and freely shares his enthusiasm for and knowledge of the game with his clients. A student of the game and its history, David will often reference passages from books produced in the early days of golf. Millsy is a “man of a million stories” gathered from playing and living the game of golf across the U.S. He's excited to share his experiences and thoughts with the GolfWRX Community.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jerry

    Jul 25, 2017 at 8:31 am

    I like the drill … to get rid of my 6-10 degree in to out club path – I look to make contact on the upper right of the ball and have the club swing left of the line. Pennies can be used to hit the fade.

    Don’t know about the advice about keeping the club on the line – that is artificial. What counts is where the clubface points at contact, which influence 80% or so of direction, and then path. The swing is on a curve and swinging down the target line is problematic.

  2. Dave R

    Jul 21, 2017 at 12:23 am

    Sorry to say Moe was not a idiot. He has more course records and hole in ones than any golfer alive . Mabey do some fact finding before saying such crap. Moe had issues yes but idiot not. One of the purest strikers of a golf ball. He could call a shot and hit it . He was amazing to follow and watch him play the one thing that brought him pure joy. It was the idiots on the tour that destroyed this man both American and Canadian tours,he was different so he didn’t belong. And if that makes him an idiot then we are all idiots for allowing this to happen.

  3. Rev G

    Jul 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

    This is a terrific drill. Mo Norman often employed this. Except he would put the backswing penny more like two feet back and instead of trying to push it back, he would just make sure to hit it. It was an essential component of his one plane swing.

    • ooffu

      Jul 18, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      moe was an idiot and the canadians kept him out of their golf hall of fame for years and then buckled for political correctness and pity

  4. Deadeye

    Jul 17, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    I have heard of this drill but not for a long time. I will try this at my next range session. I will let you know.

  5. Robert Parsons

    Jul 17, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I tried it, and maybe don’t understand how this drill works. But I can’t sweep the back penny away. Am I supposed to drag my putter on the ground a foot back to push the back penny? Makes no sense to me. I’m a good putter anyway, I mainly need to work on getting my speed down on different greens. If I had perfect speed, I’d be in that happy place putting.

    • dAVEfROMaCCOUNTING

      Jul 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      I don’t think he’s talking about putting. Try it with your full swing with irons.

      • Robert Parsons

        Jul 17, 2017 at 6:47 pm

        Tried. I still can’t drag a club back a foot low enough to push a penny. Maybe a ping pong ball a foot back. Thankfully I don’t need this drill, just wanted to try it and see what it’s all about.

        • dAVEfROMaCCOUNTING

          Jul 19, 2017 at 1:23 pm

          Agreed. I tried it too and think that’s an awfully long way back to be dragging the club that low. I like the drill where you set up to a ball and put another ball on the back side of your club. Then just take it back low and slow and let the ball push back down the target line. Got that from Martin Hall and like it a lot to slow the takeaway when it gets too fast. I tried this drill and just felt like I was dipping to keep the club that low. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHXwV6wIJ7A

        • dAVEfROMaCCOUNTING

          Jul 19, 2017 at 1:30 pm

          I also think this drill would work a little better if the pennies were a foot apart from each other (6 inches in front and 6 inches back). A foot behind the ball seems a long way back to be a pennie’s height off the ground in an arcing motion like the golf swing.

  6. Heybuddy

    Jul 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Full swing drill? All clubs? Seems like a fairly long distance to maintain the same amount of “sweepage” for a wedge to a long iron.

  7. TexasSnowman

    Jul 16, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Semi-Shank. Could be useful and help simplify swing complexities/thoughts for some folks, but I think only possibly would help with path issues; still gotta control the club face or your shots may continue to displease.

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Instruction

Functional Golf vs. Optimal Golf

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Optimize this, optimize that. We hear so much about “optimal” golf these days. It’s great that we now have the technology to seemingly optimize every aspect of the golfer, the golf swing, and the golf club, but we have to be realistic in terms of our goals. Ask yourself this question: If I can’t do this optimally, is there a way I can still do it better?

And… how do we define better? That’s easy. More solid impact.

Yes, optimal golf is what we’d all like and perhaps that is the concern of highly skilled players. But for the vast majority of golfers, functional golf might be more realistic. John Jacobs, the best teacher ever, called his approach “practical.” I’m using the term functional in a similar, albeit more specific way. And many of my regular readers know by now that I credit Jacobs for whatever success I’ve had as an instructor.

During a recent lesson, I pointed out a particular swing flaw to a student while we were reviewing his swing on video. He stopped me and said: “See that, what you’re showing me right there? I have done that my whole life. I’ve taken a number of lessons and they all mentioned that very move, and I CANNOT change it. Why is that?”

I thought, man, if I had a few bucks for every time I’ve heard that I’d be, uh,  pretty comfortable.

There are certain habits some golfers simply cannot break no matter how hard they try. For one reason or another, they’re physically incapable of changing. I have observed this for more than 30 years over thousands and thousands of lessons. Does this mean you can’t change the problems these moves may cause? No, absolutely not. There’s a long list of major champions with so called  “flaws” in their swings, from Nicklaus’ flying elbow to Furyk and his quirky move. But what these greats did is find a move that they CAN make, one that’s compatible with their core move.

If you have a move that, for whatever reason, is embedded in the fabric of your golfing DNA, it is probably best you do not beat your head against a wall trying to  change that move, however flawed it may seem. Rather, let’s see if we can find something that blends with that move that you CAN execute.

The golfer I was teaching suffered from fat shots and blocks due to an early release. He simply never learned “lag” or a later hit. So the bottom of the swing arc ended up behind the golf ball more often than not. This golfer has done this for some 20 years, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel I took a different approach. I asked him to address the golf ball with more weight on his left side. Things got a little better. More weight on the left side, even better, and so on. In other words, we started his motion from a different place, one that was more functional for him.

To help this golfer create a more functional golf swing, I had to move his center of mass forward. It wasn’t optimal perhaps, but his real problem (fat shots) had to be addressed within his current skill set. “If I could just stop drop kicking every shot, I’d be happy,” he said. In other words, we worked out a compromise, a way he could hit the ball more cleanly and enjoy golf more.

As an instructor, that’s pretty much what I do every day. I’m always looking for a compatible motion that balances golf swing equations. “If that is a band aid, you better buy a whole box,” Jacobs would say.

I teach in a community of largely senior golfers. Senior but serious, I call them. They are looking for a way to put the club on the ball more often, which means a better impact position. There is no “in the long run” for seniors. I don’t say, “Let’s make a plan for later” because some are fearful of buying green bananas, let alone working hard on a long-term plan. There is also no “new” when your old move has been around most of your golfing life. Senior golfers, myself included, are on the back nine, much closer to the 18th green than the 1st tee. And most golfers are not going back and starting their round over… believe me. But this doesn’t mean they can’t play better. And they do. Every day.

This lesson likely applies to you even if you are younger and more physically capable. Some things just don’t change, and perhaps the learning psychologists or biomechanists can better tell you why. That’s why I encourage all serious golfers to work with an instructor to identify what moves in their swing simply will not change. Then they should learn to work around them, not try to fix them. That’s the way to better golf.

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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