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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

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  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: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Instruction

Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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Instruction

WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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