There is a general belief that swinging a golf club is like riding a bike; once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. The truth is that the swing is elusive, and while it might seem on occasion that you’ve found “the secret,” you can be assured it will disappear within a matter of time.
This is the vexing part of the game. As Gary Player once said, “The swing is a puzzle which will never be solved.”
Constant State of Change
The reality is that your golf swing is in a constant state of change, moving in one direction or another. The key to high-level performance is being aware that these changes occur and calmly accepting that they are both natural and inevitable.
And so, when it happens, you have to understand that you haven’t “lost” your swing, but what has been lost is the way in which your senses interpret the feeling of your swing. You must then redefine the feeling of your swing through practice, working toward discovering a parallel feel that produces the desired outcome. This process goes on forever.
A Change In Feel
The feeling of your swing changes because the chemistry of your body is constantly changing. These changes are so subtle that you are largely unaware that they are even occurring. But in the process, they are redefining the feel of your swing through the seven senses.
There is some debate as to the total number of human senses with the numbers ranging from five to 21. That said, the accepted number in most learned circles is a total of seven. They are touch, sight, sound, smell, taste, balance, and spacial awareness.
The role of the seven senses is to monitor the systems of your body in relationship to your immediate environment. The information that your senses gather is then integrated and sent through the central nervous system to the brain. The system then awaits orders as to how to proceed. The new information is then consolidated on a second-to-second basis, making whatever changes may be necessary given the state of the body at any one moment.
You might be wondering, “What would be required for there to be NO CHANGE in the way my swing feels?” The answer is that each of the seven senses would have to remain exactly the same for some period of time, which is an impossibility. The problem being that when even one of your senses change, it has the potential to change the way your entire swing feels.
Seven Lions, Seven Senses
You might picture a lion-tamer in the circus. He is alone with seven tigers in a cage, equipped with only a whip and a four-legged stool. There are seven pedestals lined up in a row, each one positioned next to the other. The lion-tamer’s goal is to have each one of the seven lions, at the same time, remain sitting on top of their designated pedestal.
The challenge is that the lions are not inclined to stay in one place for any period of time. They would rather pace around the ring than stay in any one spot. And so, just as the imaginary lion-tamer is a able to get the seven lions into position, one of them jumps off the pedestal and begins pacing back and forth.
And then just as the lion-tamer is able to direct that first lion back into position again, a second lion jumps down and starts pacing back and forth in the same manner as the first.
The Canary In The Coal Mine
The flight of the ball is the first to be affected by sensory changes in your swing, serving as “the canary in the coal mine.” Assuming solid contact, the ball’s flight is a direct reflection of your mechanics, and the degree in which they may have been altered by the seven senses. For example, you may have been hitting the ball straight, but then at some point the seven senses interceded, causing your swing to move in one direction or another. These changes can be plotted on a scale.
You might imagine a 12-inch ruler. The 1-inch point represents a hook with the 4-inch point representing a draw. At the opposite end of the ruler, the 12-inch point represents a slice with the 8-inch point representing a fade. A straight ball would lie in the middle at 6 inches. The challenge is keeping your ball flight within acceptable perimeters, understanding that your swing is not going to feel the same each day even though it may be identical.
Balancing Out The Swing
What does this mean if you’re competing? Assuming you’re an advanced player, your goal when practicing the full swing should be to constantly balance out your ball flight. This means when you practice, rather than trying to hit the perfect shot each time, you devote a portion of each session to working the ball in the opposite direction against your immediate tendency.
The reasoning is, of course, that if you have a sense of the two extremes that lie on either end of the spectrum, you are better equipped to find the middle. For example, assuming you fade the ball, you should practice hitting a few draws or hooks to balance out your swing. On the other hand, if you draw the ball, you should practice hitting a few fades or slices for the same purpose.
This type of practice is referred to as “bracketing,” which is far superior to “block practice,” an attempt to hit shots repetitively to a single target. The act of bracketing will increase your ability to “find” the central target as you become more familiar with the boundaries on each side. Sam Snead understood this principle at an intuitive level. During his career, he played left-to-right and right-to left depending on where his swing was on the scale. He would fade the ball until it became a slice, and then he would draw the ball until it became a hook. And then he would reverse the process. He did this throughout his entire career.
At a higher level, when you have a physical grasp of these three feels, you can curve the ball simply through visualization because you have repeated the shot over and over again in practice. And when you have reached this point in your game, you are approaching a level of mastery that will allow you to challenge the golf course and play whatever shot is required in any given situation.