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What do you do when you can’t hit the broadside of a barn?

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The Major League Baseball season is heating up. The best teams are starting to pull away from pack, and across the Midwest and Northeast the weather is finally starting to warm up enough to make attending an MLB game seem like a good idea. Why do I bring up baseball at this time of the year on a golf website? It stems from baseball producing one of my favorite analogies for the game of golf.

Master of Many Pitches, Multiple Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw is the Elite Pitcher in Today’s Game… and a role model for all golfers.

I think we’ve all experienced it before. Our straight shot on the golf course, “our fastball,” can’t find a fairway or a green. If a big league pitcher can’t find the strike zone with his fastball, he better have a backup pitch that can be thrown for strikes. Otherwise, he’ll struggle to get Big League hitters out. As golfers, we need to realize that having one shot isn’t going to solve all the problems we face on the golf course. Want a few examples?

  • Does a low-trajectory player do well with his long irons or fairway woods to elevated greens?
  • Does a high trajectory player succeed in windy conditions with his wedges?

Both players will have limitations with their most consistent ball flight under those adverse conditions. Adding another layer to this scenario, do we have a backup plan if our straight shot isn’t performing at a high level?

So many golfers never consider having a backup plan. This is where I want to shake my fist at one of the most prevalent cultures within the game of golf. Golfers think that they need to wait until they can hit a perfectly straight shot before they learn other ways of controlling the golf ball. I couldn’t disagree more with this thought process, and for that reason I want to introduce an exercise that will allow you to have multiple golf shots.

I like to call this exercise The Nines, which is short for the nine potential ball flights. All you need is a golf swing that produces relatively consistent ball contact. From there, we’re going to have you alter your club face position and ball position, which will allow you to experience different ball flight patterns and/or trajectories. The task for you is to go into this exercise with an open mind. Try to make the same swing without manipulating your technique. Then simply collect data about what your golf swing produces after you make those static changes to your setup.

Bubba Watson was able to hit a 40-yard hook during the 2012 Masters’ playoff by practicing shots to help him control his golf ball in as many different scenarios as possible.

So here are the details to execute this exercise. Grab your 6 iron. Pick one specific target for the entire exercise. I would encourage you to place a shaft or club on the ground to ensure that as you conduct this experiment your variables are kept to a minimum and your body is aiming at the same target every time.

Now get nine golf balls and split them up into three different groups of three. With the first group of three, start with your normal, stock ball position. Then hit three golf balls with a square club face. Observe what your golf ball does. Take notes. What was the shape of shot? What was the trajectory? What was the distance?

Hit another three golf balls with a closed club face (let’s start with 3-5 degrees pointing to the left for a right-handed golfer). Again, collect data.

Finally, hit your last three golf balls with an open club face (again, with 3-5 degrees to the right for a right-handed golfer). Once again, takes notes as to how your golf ball behaved.

Here is an example of changing your ball position. Note how changing ball position can change where in your swing circle you contact the golf ball. Note how the backward ball position creates a rightward path. Note how the forward ball position creates a leftward path.

Next you’re going to follow the same tasks listed in the paragraph, but you’re going to move your ball position. The first alteration to your setup is to conduct this exercise with your ball position two balls closer to your backswing foot from your standard position. The second time should be two balls closer to your target foot. With each new ball position, hit three different golf balls with a square, closed and open club face. Take notes from each shot.  Complete this task with your driver as well.

Another view of how ball position can change your swing circle and delivery of your golf club. Note how the backward ball position creates a more descending angle of attack, whereas the forward ball position creates a more ascending angle of attack.

At the end of this task, did you have static positions of club face and ball position that you preferred the most? I would even encourage you to rate each setup from your favorite to your least. Your favorites should be your backup shots on the golf course, which brings us back to the pitching analogy.

Now that you know that you have a second, third and fourth pitch, go get reps in with them at the driving range! Just like a pitcher needs to throw a curveball for a strike, you need to execute a low shot that curves to the right (if that’s one of the shots you prefer within your modified setups) to hit a fairway or a green.

A single-digit golfer’s ball flight from stock ball position. Note the club path and face-to-path data. Also note the visual ball flight.

You also might want to take a look at the setups that produced the ugliest shots for you. Those setups magnify the dynamic characteristics of your golf swing that don’t perform well. Depending on your goals within the game of golf, you may want to try to improve your technique to help you execute shots from these setups.

Tiger Woods wanted to be able to hit all nine ball flights under the most demanding tournament pressure in the world. Bruce Lietzke, another world-class player, only wanted to see his golf ball fall right. The choice is yours!

A single-digit golfer’s data from a ball position toward the trail foot. Note the more rightward-launching ball flight tendencies. Also, note the more rightward club path data.

One last thing to ponder. When you study your data, it should tell you a lot about your golf swing. The key is to attach ball flight principles to what your technique is producing. This is way too complicated of a concept to cover for this story, however; any well respected teaching professional (especially one with a TrackMan/FlightScope/ForeSight) can help you resolve your own personal mystery.

A single-digit golfer’s data from a ball position toward the target foot. Note the more leftward-launching ball flight tendencies.

So give this exercise a go. I believe it can return you to a simpler time where you learned more about golf just by doing. I still remember playing catch with my father as a younger boy. I did not throw too many strikes with my first throws, and my father spent a lot of time running after my misplaced pitches. I learned with each throw, however, coming to understand how to alter arm and body positions, as well as release patterns to throw a lot more strikes by the end of the session.

Hopefully this exercise helps you recapture that learning style, and in turn, helps you control the golf ball with multiple shots more efficiently and instinctively. Good luck!

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Certified Teaching Professional at the Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Coast, CA. Ranked as one of the best teachers in California & Hawaii by Golf Digest Titleist Performance Institute Certified www.youtube.com/uranser

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ogo

    May 5, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Simple…. buy a new set of golf clubs…. PXGs…. TW P-790s…. most any new and improved club design that will transform your game and ego.
    If you want to be a winner you gotta look like a winner… clubs, cap, clothes, shoes, ball, bag, head covers …. the whole WRX … 😎

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Instruction

WATCH: Two drills to help you stop hitting it fat

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Here’s a response to a question on my Instagram page from Neil Riley. He asked if he should steepen the angle of attack in the downswing in order to stop hitting fat shots. In this video, I share two of the reasons why golfers might be hitting fat shots, as well as two drills to practice that will help them stop hitting it fat.

 

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Changing your golf swing? Consider this before you do

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Golfers I have taught over the years have an almost uncanny ability to put the golf club on the ball (to varying degrees, of course). I have seen well-hit shots from an incredibly wide variety of positions. I’ve seen closed faces, open faces, steep swings, flat swings, outside-in paths, inside-out paths, slow and fast swings, strong grips and weak grips ALL hit the golf ball solidly at times. How? Well, thinking about this may very well help your swing, especially before you decide to change something in it. Let’s take a look at a few examples to explain.

Strong Grips/Closed Clubfaces

We’ll start with the example of a strong grip that tends to get the clubface quite closed to the arc in the swing and at the top of the swing. If that is left alone in the downswing, the shots are very predictable: low and left (for a right-hander), sometimes barely getting off the ground. But many golfers hit the ball in the air and straight with a strong grip; in fact, many hit high blocks to the right. How? Well, they open the face on the way down and usually “hold on” through impact. They adapt to the closed clubface to make it work, and that’s the point here.

Now, if they reach good impact consistently like a Dustin Johnson, Graham McDowell and several others do with a closed clubface, we have no problem. But often club golfers do not; in fact, many slice and top the ball from a shut face at the top.  They do so because opening a closed face is a very shallowing move and prevents one from releasing the club properly (it’s a power outage as well).  Functionally, however, opening a shut is far better than releasing it from there, for obvious reasons. If the trail hand pronates, the face goes from closed to really closed. So golfers simply learn to open it.

So along comes some well-meaning friend who says your clubface is really closed at the top. You look at many great players, and sure enough, your face is clearly shut. So you correct it. What happens next is also very predictable: high and very right, and very thin with many topped shots. Why? Because you only corrected part of the problem. You fixed the shut face, but now you’ve taken a square clubface and massively opened it as a force of habit. You have ingrained that move into your swing because you had to open your old, shut clubface in the downswing. Correcting only ONE thing made your swing worse. Your swing is now dysfunctional.

That’s why if you commit to one change for the sake of improvement or consistency, you have to commit to both changes. If you don’t, you’ll get worse… not better.

Steep Swings

Here’s another: many amateur players start the downswing with the golf club far too steep. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe not (you can be just as steep from inside the ball). But when the golf club is too vertical in transition, it can result in any one of a number of impact mistakes: namely fat, slices and toe hits. So the idea of “flattening the transition” (good idea) becomes your priority, but there’s always a catch. Most experienced golfers correct steep through one of a few different ways listed below:

  • Raising the hands (standing the club up) to avoid fat shots
  • Tilting the torso back or away from the target to avoid opening the face
  • Sending the hands away from the body to avoid toes hits
  • Raising the swing center

You get the picture here. You learn to get the club on a better plane (flatter with the butt of the grip pointed more at the golf ball), but you’ll likely still have one of the “fit-in” moves left into impact. So a flatter club, which is by far a better way to square the face, might result in a shank if you’re used to sending your hands away from your body to avoid a toe hit. Raising the hands might top. Tilting the torso back away might hit shallow fats or tops. So you fixed the steep transition, but your impact is worse! Again, you’re dysfunctional.

Remember, if you commit to one change, you MUST commit to both.

Weak Grips/Over-The-Top

One more: Golfers who start out with a weak grip (as most do) slice. So as a reaction, they come over the top and swing outside-in. So they fix the grip, and of course, the result is predictable. They pull the ball, generally low and left (for right-handers). You get the pattern here. They need to learn a new swing direction, and on and on.

The lesson is clear; a single correction of a swing issue can be sufficient, but in my experience, two corrections must be tackled for long-term improvement. What to correct first? Well, you’d have to consult with your teacher or coach. As a rule, I try to get better impact first if I can get someone there from where their swing is now. Some other teachers may prefer a different sequence, but I think they’d all agree that a two-part correction is ultimately in the works.

I’ve always believed that teachers can disagree widely on the prescription, but they should be pretty much in unison regarding the diagnosis. Learn the swing flaw AND your reaction to it before you decide to make a swing change.

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How to use your handicap to lower your scores

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The fastest way to improve the game of an amateur, or a handicap golfer, is to use the established handicap as a guide to direct and then to measure that improvement. The measurement component is simple; as the game improves, the handicap goes down. Using the handicap as a guide is a bit more complex because the player must be dedicated, determined and disciplined enough to stay within the improvement process. And before I share with you the process, I want to share the foundation, or the rationale, that makes it work.

“Placing the ball in the right position for the next shot is 80 percent of winning golf.”

— Ben Hogan

Not all that long ago, I was present when a friend of a client of mine was complaining that no matter what he did with practice or lessons he just wasn’t getting better. He said that if he could just break 90 once he could “die a happy man.” It sounded like an opportunity to be of service to me, so I agreed to a playing lesson. The short version of that lesson was I told him what to hit and where to hit it — and he shot 87.

Was he happy? Not on your life! Angry, not quite… but really upset. Why? The poor guy said he didn’t have any fun!

The day of the playing lesson, I met the player on the range while he was warming up. I observed that he should never hit a driver, so I didn’t let him. I observed he couldn’t hit a long iron, so I didn’t let him. I had him tee off with a six iron on the par 4’s and 5’s, which he hated. And if he could have controlled his putting distance a bit better he wouldn’t have three-putted three times. No penalty shots, no water balls and no OB’s. All we did for 18 holes was try to put the ball in play and to keep it in play. He hated it. So much for dying a happy man.

During this playing lesson, I used the player’s handicap as a guide to maximize his playing ability, and I used his ability to help him make the best score he could at that time. So how did I use his handicap? I could see this player was no better than an 18, so I added one stroke to the posted par for each hole. Par 3’s became Par 4’s. Par 4’s became Par 5’s, and Par 5’s became Par 6’s. Once his par was established, he played each hole to get on the green according to that par adjustment. For example, the 210-yard par-3 became a 210-yard par-4. So instead of trying to get on the green from the tee, we used a strategy to get on the green in two and then two-putt for a 4, or “his par.”

I advocate every player use this handicap game-improvement system. A 15-handicap adjusts 15 holes so his par changes from 72 to 87; an 8-handicap adjusts eight holes so that his par changes from 72 to 80. I use this process for plus handicaps and professionals as well. A plus-4 adjusts four holes so his/her par changes from 72 to 68. Using this mindset, my playing lesson shot 3-under his par of 90.

I’ve had clients cut their handicaps in half in just a few months by adherence to this process. It works in lowering scores because it eliminates most “unforced errors,” and about half of all dropped shots at all levels are a direct result of unforced errors. Unforced errors occur when something is attempted that the player can’t do or shouldn’t do. The fewer unforced errors per round, the lower the score. It’s as simple as that.

I strongly urge golfers to chart each round of golf in order to identify every unforced error. Just email me at edmyersgolf@gmail.com and I will send the game-improvement scorecard that I have my clients use to evaluate their performance.

Posting lower scores is how handicaps go down, and all handicaps plateau when the player is faced with the realities of what he/she can and can’t do. For example, an improving handicap golfer may require the need to use clubs or hit shots not previously necessary. The playing experience reveals what needs practice, and practice is where the player should learn what can and can’t be done. Rule of Thumb: if you can do it 7/10 times in practice, you can consider doing it in play.

In the opening paragraph, I stated that dedication, determination, and discipline are required to stay within this improvement process should the player decide to implement it. But I should have said it takes a whole lot of all three. Experience tells me that players say what they feel, but do what they want. Neither is a plan for progress.

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