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Expand the Radius for Pure Ball-Striking

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There is a specific element of the swing that all good ball-strikers possess. It can be summed-up many different ways, lending to the often confusing terminology of golf instruction, but perhaps the best description is the following: good ball strikers, except for with the driver and putter, create a bottom or low-point of the clubhead swing/arc that is a few inches ahead of the ball.

In his book “The Impact Zone,” former PGA Tour player Bobby Clampett clearly made his feelings known on the matter by stating that for all types of player concerns, his best response was to “get the bottom of the swing 4 inches ahead of the ball.” Four inches may be the high end of the effective range, but still, I’m in agreement with Bobby on the paramount importance of this element of the swing.

Why is this so important?

Achieving a “forward” low point allows the golfer to deliver the clubhead to the ball with a slightly descending attack angle. Due to the design of the small golf ball and lofted face of golf clubs, “hitting down on the ball” slightly is a must for clean contact on the “sweet spot” of the clubface. Also, the bio-mechanics involved in creating a forward low-point will naturally return the club face squarely back to its starting alignment relative to the path/plane of the swing. The “dub,” as Bobby Jones rather bluntly referred to him (or her) who struggles to achieve both of these clubhead delivery conditions satisfactorily, is thus both a “flipper” and a “slicer.”

OK, so how do we do it?

Intentions, feels, and swing thoughts – different terms for the same thing — that can help the golfer achieve a forward low-point are limitless. But the following is one of the very best that I know of: expand the radius of the hand-path through impact. In terms of space, we’re talking “past the ball.” But I prefer this intention in relation to time or impact, which is more feel-based.

The hands swing around a point located near the golfer’s upper core area. At the start of the swing, both arms are essentially straight. The radius of the swing of the hands is widest and the distance from the hands to the center is greatest when both arms are straight. In the backswing, the left arm remains straight while the right arm bends up to a 90-degree angle, at which time the radius is at its most narrow, the hands closest to the center. At the strike point, good ball-strikers are expanding the radius of the swing of the hands, in turn widening the arc of the clubhead past impact. Without this bio-mechanical feature to the swing, achieving a swing bottom several inches ahead of the ball is virtually impossible, as the clubhead will release prematurely to its bottom.

How do you know if you’re doing it?

Besides creating proper clubhead delivery and an unmistakably “pure” strike, the trail arm should be observed with high-speed video to be straightening at impact. In a proper full swing, full-radius and the classic both-arms-straight position is reached just after impact.

A natural practice drill to acquire this skill

Ben Hogan, in his landmark instruction book, “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” described the forward swing motion into impact like throwing a small-sized medicine ball. For a number of years now, I have been using a six-pound medicine ball with handles, for myself as well as my students, as an essential training aid to loosen-up and acquire the correct bio-mechanical movements of the swing. Whether you actually let go of the ball or not, the correct motion is the same:

  • Start with both arms straight.
  • Swing the medicine ball, which represents the hands in the golf swing, around a fixed point in the upper core, near the sternum.
  • At the end of the backswing, the lead arm should still be straight while the trail arm has bent to an approximately 90-degree angle.
  • The primary intention is for the forward swing and is to push the medicine ball outward from your center, reaching full-radius/both-arms-straight again ideally at a point in-line with your lead shoulder/foot. This movement will allow you to achieve a clubhead low point ahead of any golf ball positioned behind your lead shoulder.

A word of warning

It is possible to extend the radius of the hands too far past the ball. This is largely a problem limited to better players. The buzz term I hear for this nowadays is “handle-dragging.” An effective fix, as you might now imagine, is to intend to expand to full-radius sooner. But in over 20 years of teaching predominately the golfing population at large, I would say that for every one player that I see who expands the radius too far past the ball, I see many more times that who do not expand the radius sufficiently past impact.

It works like this; if you usually strike the ball first, but then take deep, gouging divots, and struggle to achieve a satisfactory height to your approach shots, then more than likely you actually are the rare “handle-dragger.” But if you are like the majority of recreational players who do not typically strike the ball first and then take a proper, shallow divot with your irons and feel that you hit them too high but without sufficient distance, then you are the opposite of a “handle-dragger,” a bit of a “flipper.”

If this description fits you, then please give the intention detailed here a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

In a proper golf swing, both arms become straight again, the hand-path reaching full-radius AFTER impact. As the golf swing moves much too fast to make this critical analysis in real time, high-speed video, seen here viewing down-the-line of flight, is a must.  

A hand-path training drill using a six-pound medicine ball with handles.

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As an independent contractor based in Scottsdale, Arizona, Todd Dugan provides video swing analysis as a player gift to groups hosting golf tournaments and also is available for private instruction. * PGA Certified Instructor * Teaching professionally since 1993 CONTACT: ToddDugan@PGA.com vimeo.com/channels/todddugangolf

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Mj

    Nov 13, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Your club should be releasing at point of impact. Which is your mind can’t be trying to control the club. Also it is impossible to react that quickly because of the speed of the club head. Good to see something on hand path and not clubhead path. Many teachers act as if the clubhead is a part of the bosy.
    Also good to see bobby jones regerence. His hand path was a perfect circle at the precise hand plane. Overlooked because of the looseness of his motion. Justin Rose is very close to the same

    • etc.

      Nov 13, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      The club is ‘releasing’ early in the downswing and when the club shaft is on plane vertically and the kinetic energy is flowing distally.
      The wrists can control the hand path but cannot control the club shaft starting to freewheel around the wrists. Trying to compensate within the final stages of the downswing is problematic. If you don’t have control of your swing by the time you are on your lead foot you are out of control.
      Approaching impact the club head is essentially a ‘free body’ because the shaft tip is whip-snapping by drooping and torquing while the shaft is windmilling around the wrist. This was established in SPS book many decades ago.
      Bobby Jones had to swing in a tight circle to best control the whippy hickory shafts. He had no ‘looseness in his motion’, otherwise the hickory shafted clubs would be flapping all over the place.

  2. SK

    Nov 12, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    At the strike point, good ball-strikers are expanding the radius of the swing of the hands, in turn widening the arc of the clubhead past impact. Without this bio-mechanical feature to the swing, achieving a swing bottom several inches ahead of the ball is virtually impossible, as the clubhead will release prematurely to its bottom.
    ——————————————-
    Are you suggesting that the radius of the swing through impact is solely a function on the position of the hands and arms?
    Please consider the weight distribution between the feet influencing clubhead position through impact.
    Also does the position of the torso center of rotation and shoulder rotation position influence clubhead path?
    It seems if you attempt to separate the lead arm from the chest in an attempt to extend the arms outwards (as you show in your swing video) you will disconnect and the wrists will rise excessively. This will cause a toe hit and a reduced swing radius. Simply extending the arms invites instability to clubhead path.
    IIRC, you were a proponent of Kelley’s TGM and modelling the swing on a perfect circle which means you must shift the circle center located in the lead shoulder to change the radius position through impact; not stretching out the arms.
    It seems rather simplistic to only relate swing radius to extending the arms and not considering the several other factors that directly affect impact position.

    • Todd Dugan

      Nov 12, 2017 at 11:24 pm

      SK, I have never been an endorser of, or affiliated with, “Kelly’s TGM”.

      And while I am happy to answer questions, one at a time, specific to the article, I must decline to respond here to the swing theories of others.

      • SK

        Nov 13, 2017 at 12:11 am

        I stand corrected and apologize if it cause you any consternation.
        Can you please respond to my other questions and comments of greater substance and importance, and certainly not related to TGM. Thanks in advance.

  3. Cary

    Nov 12, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    You appear to be steep coming into the ball. How does being steep in the downswing affect the expansion of the radius ?

    • Todd Dugan

      Nov 12, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      Cary, I can’t assume what you mean specifically by “steep”. However, the video does show what it intends to, which is that the both-arms-straight position (full-radius) is reached after impact.

    • Peeny

      Nov 13, 2017 at 6:11 am

      Maybe a side on video would have been better to show both arms straightening.
      From the DTL video the steep downswing and standing up through impact is what the eye focuses on.

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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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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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