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The Hidden Fundamentals of Golf

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Golfers, in general, are under performing even with the technical advancements of today, and many get very frustrated playing the game. What’s missing to get golfers to play better and enjoy it more? In our opinion, golf has two sets of fundamentals: technical fundamentals and human fundamentals.

Technical Skills x Human Skills = How Well You Play 

You are not a robot playing golf; you are a human being. As a human being, you are variable from day to day and even during the day. Your body, mind, and emotions are dynamic, and the state of each influences your technique to a great extent. For example:

  • If your body is tight and sore, it might make your rotation limited.
  • If your mind worries about the future, it might make your tempo too quick.
  • If you are getting frustrated because the pace of play is slow, it might make your grip pressure too tight.

A deficiency of trained and practiced human skills shows up as a golfer with a solid-looking technique, or even a great ball striker, but one that can’t score. We often call the human skills of the game the “hidden fundamentals.” They are hidden because they are within one’s mental, emotional, and physical state. They are the interior of the human experience, so they can’t be seen as clearly and as obviously as one’s technique. For example, you can’t see a golfer’s self talk on a screen, but there’s no question that it will most definitely influence and manifest a change in their technique.

Rory McIlroy spoke specifically of that change in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He opened the tournament with a 5-over par 39 and then proceeded to play 10-under over the final 63 holes, finishing T4. The shift was his caddie’s reminder of his prodigious talent and accomplishments. 

“It was a rough start,” McIlroy said. “I was just indecisive out there. Mentally I was not engaged, and I was half caught between playing the golf shot I needed to and my golf swing.”

Jordan Spieth was the premier display of developed human skills in action after a disastrous drive on No. 13 on Sunday at The Open. All of us could watch his body language, the focus in his eyes, and his commitment to the shots ahead. We also heard some of the affirmative self talk between himself and his caddie. He played the final five holes in 5-under to win by three shots, a stretch that many have called the best golf performance in major championship history.

Human skills always play a huge role on performance, but we don’t hear much about them in the golf world. They get wrapped up in words that are general and elusive, like “trust” or “process.” For this reason, golf instruction doesn’t pay much attention to them. More than 90 percent of articles on how to improve at golf are about technical skills. They’re good and necessary, of course, but they’re not the whole story. It’s time for human skills to get their due, and that’s what the rest of this article is about.

At VISION54, we complement a golfer’s technique with the human skills. It’s about learning to manage yourself before a shot (Think Box), during a shot (Play Box), after a shot (Memory Box), and in between shots. We’ve found that any golfer at any level will improve when human skills are developed along with the technical skills.

Practice Time

Memory_Box_Think_Box_Play_Box

The only way to learn the human skills is to explore options on the golf course. Below is one exploration for the Play Box, Think Box and Memory Box. In our new book, “Be A Player,” there are nine holes of explorations after each chapter. You are unique as a golfer, and it’s important to discover what makes you play better.

Play Box: BE Focused!

Every shot requires you to be focused/present/athletic until the end of the motion. No more thinking. The shorter time you need, the easier it is under pressure.

Do: Play 3 holes and hold your finish for 3 seconds to make sure you are staying present until the end of the swing or stroke.

Think Box: BE Decisive!

Every shot requires you to make a decision in a confident way and to trust your decision about the club, shot and your Play Box. Also, it allows you to get present and engaged before stepping into the shot.

Do: Play 3 holes and say your decision about the shot in a confident manner before stepping into the shot or putt to make sure you have made a clear decision.

Memory Box: BE Confident!

For every shot, you want to manage what your brain stores as a memory. Be neutral/ objective to shots and processes you did not like. Be positive/happy to shots and processes that are great/good/good enough. Emotions make memories stick in the brain.

Do: Play 3 holes and feel emotionally happy for every shot that is good or good enough. Have no commentary on shots you don’t like. 

For more exercises like this, you can visit our website: http://www.vision54.com/html/be-a-player.html

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Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson are co-founders of VISION54, bestselling authors of four VISION54 books, and Golf Digest top 50 teachers. They have coached eight different major winners and three world No. 1 LPGA players. Their golf schools and coach trainings gets the highest rankings possible.

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Instruction

Walters: Avoid these 3 big chipping mistakes!

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Chipping causes nightmares for so many amateur golfers. This s mainly due to three core mistakes. In this video, I talk about what those mistakes are, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

 

Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back

 

Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension

 

Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

 

The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.

 

In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.

 

If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

Nick Randall – golffitpro.net

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