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The swing thoughts of a World Long Drive Champion

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I find swing thoughts fascinating. We all have them whether we’re on a quest to break 80 for the first time or on the biggest stage in front of millions of people at The Masters.

At some level, we all can have the same golf conversation no matter the skill level.

“Hey what were you thinking about when you hit that?”

So when I sat down to talk with last year’s World Long Drive Champ, Justin James, before ending the call I had to ask what he thought about during his winning 435-yard blast.

And I thought it was amazing to get such a look behind the curtain, so I wanted to share it with you all.

Before we hear what he was thinking Justin sets the stage for what the whole event is like from his experience.

JUSTIN: Everything in long drive, especially in a live TV event, is so fast. You’ve got a shot clock that’s three minutes. Literally a clock counting down right in front of you.

You have the television crew there, which they’re on live TV, they have windows to hit so they’re pushing you to go fast.

You have aggressive, fast music playing in the background.

You have inebriated fans yelling behind you, so everything is quick, quick, quick.

So for me, personally, I just try to slow down a little bit so I don’t get too quick and other than that, just try to simulate a practice environment. I try to practice like it’s a game and in the game I try to treat that like practice.

Pretty crazy right?

When you’re nervous for that first shot of your club championship in front of maybe 20 people… Just imagine that times 100. What they heck do you think about while you’re pulling that club back?

JUSTIN: I was trying to work a little draw. You know, kind of pick a spot on the grid.

Because I go to my right side so aggressively (in the back swing), a lot of times I don’t get back to my left side. And if you’re going to transition your right side, you have to get back to your left side and that goes with starting the swing with your lower body.

So if there was any type of swing thought, it was just getting back to my left side, transitioning the weight and then just going after it.

I’m a little bit more technical than guys, a little OCD, so I will have swing thoughts, just things I lock into but I usually try to limit those…

For me, it’s like, let’s take your butt towards the target or towards the right side of the grid. Make sure you transition your weight. You lead with your hip.

It will be different thoughts, different things at different times of the year depending on what I’m working on.

I think there are two important questions to ask about swing things.

1 – What were you thinking?
2 – How were you thinking?

The “what” is that previous excerpt from Justin, but there’s more to dig into when we talk about swing thoughts.

When I’ve looked into the research on how the brain works and what drives better performance they often look at the state of the brain. And to get into a good performance state it’s more about “how” we’re thinking.

JUSTIN: For me I just try to eliminate all the external stuff around me.

When I was pitching (Justin pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays), even with a crowd of 5,000 people, I just saw me and the catcher. And that’s what I try to do when I’m on the golf course, especially with Long Drive.

There will be a big crowd there.

There will be the music playing.

But I try to just make it me and the grid that’s clearly marked in front of me. The only things that are clear are me and the grid… the rest is in the background and fuzzy.

Early on, when I was Long Driving, I was in my parents’ living room with a launch monitor, a mat, and a net. That’s a real small concentrated area and I just try to extend that to competition and just eliminate all the external stuff.

It’s just me and the grid and you’ve just got to hit your shot. It’s all you can do.

It’s really cool to look behind the scenes and hear about Justin’s experience of that winning drive.

I’m curious to hear how you can translate some of Justin’s experiences into your own swing thoughts? Any adjustments you going to make?

If you want to listen to an entire conversation talking about how he became a long drive pro, from his development as a junior, to what he’s doing now in his training, check out this interview here.

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Cordie has spent the last four years working with golf instructors, helping inform thousands on business and teaching best practices (if you're a coach or instructor check out http://golfinthelifeof.com/). Through that he's realized that it's time for the way golf is taught to be changed. When looking at research and talking with coaches and academics, he's launched the Golf Science Golf Science Lab , a website and audio documentary-style podcast focused on documenting what's really going on in learning and playing better golf.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brad

    Mar 5, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    If you’ve made the right swing 1,000 times the proper way into the net while practicing, why not just think this shot is number 1,001? Certainly you’ve got to take target into account, but once you’ve selected your club and target, why not let all that got and hit ball #1,001. I practice with a net often and I find thinking “just like into the net” on the course relaxes me.

    Net practice isn’t the only thing you could envision, nor should it be your only practice. But these thoughts translate.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father

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Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

featured image c/o Golf Channel

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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member lawsonman, who takes us to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois. The course sits west of Chicago, and in lawsonman’s description of the course, he cites the immaculate condition of the track as one of the reasons he feels it’s a hidden gem.

“Always in pristine condition. 36 hole layout that is as hard as you want to make it. Trees (big) and water are everywhere. Pace of play is usually very good. Located about 90 minutes west of Chicago’s western suburbs.”

According to Park Hills Golf Course’s website, 18 holes around the course costs just $23, no matter what day you wish to play. There is a $16 charge should you want to use a cart for 18 holes.

@rooftopweather

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Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Opinion & Analysis

Louisville Golf: Post time for persimmon

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“I knew I had to give it a shot. If I had tried and it didn’t work out, I would’ve been okay with that. But I had to go after my passion and see where it went.”

Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:

“You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”

Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.

Master models for Louisville Golf persimmon club heads

Some of Louisville Golf’s more well-known woods that won on the PGA Tour were the Wilson Whale that Payne Stewart used to win the 1989 PGA Championship and the Hogan Apex that Tom Kite used to win the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Then metal woods came into the picture and sales dwindled. When Callaway launched the Big Bertha, sales basically dried up overnight.

Though metal woods took off like a rocket in the 1990’s, there were some holdouts. Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Mark Calcavecchia held onto their persimmon woods into the late 90s. The last man standing was widely considered to be Bob Estes, who used his Louisville Golf Smart ProBE (a club Just developed specifically for Estes) in the Accenture Match Play in 2001.

When Elmore Just passed away in April of 2001, his brother Mike assumed control of the company. Elmore is actually buried at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club in Louisville, an Arthur Hills course he developed in the 1980’s. When Mike took the reins, though the company had successfully limped along through the metal wood revolution, the hard reality was that they needed to reinvent themselves if they were going to remain profitable. Mike left his mark on the company in 2004 by deciding to leverage Louisville Golf’s unique expertise into crafting period-correct hickory shafted golf clubs and restoring vintage specimens. That decision marked a resurgence of sorts, as the niche has served Louisville Golf well. Today, Louisville Golf and St. Andrews Golf Co. are the only large scale manufacturers of such equipment.

Louisville Golf club heads ready for final assembly

It’s a peculiar set of circumstances to be sure, but oddly enough, many golfers in the 21st century have found Louisville Golf through 100-year-old golf clubs. This is exactly how Jeremy Wright came into the picture. Jeremy was a medical sales representative in Houston, TX with a wife, three kids, and a serious golfing hobby. He had recently gone on a search for an exotic shaft upgrade for his Scotty Cameron putter. On a whim, he googled wooden shafts, stumbled across hickory golf clubs, and the rest was history.

“One of the things I learned in that search was that, when the golf industry transitioned from hickory shafts to steel, a lot of players either kept their old hickory putters or would fit their new putters with hickory shafts for decades after that transition because the feel was so much better.

“So I kept digging into hickory golf and tried to learn what it was all about. I discovered there were hickory tournaments and the winners shot like 75-78 and I thought, ‘I can do that. I’m going to get a hickory set together and figure this out.’ From that point on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”

So hooked, in fact, that when Jeremy heard the Just family was fielding offers for the company as a result of Mike’s passing in October of 2016, he put his name in the hat. It just so happened that Jeremy and his wife were both at a point in their careers where they were looking for more. Burned out and tired of the cyclical corporate rat race, they decided to go all-in on Jeremy’s passion, submitted an offer to the Just family, and ultimately were selected from multiple potential suitors to carry on the legacy of the company.

Sole plates for Louisville Golf persimmon fairway woods

As for where Louisville Golf goes from here, you can probably expect a lot more of what got them here in the first place. After all, one of the biggest reasons Jeremy was selected to take the reins at Louisville Golf was his commitment to preserving its heritage.  Louisville Golf may not be rubbing elbows with the major OEM’s anymore, but these days, they’re not trying to either. Just like the rest of us golfers, they’re getting by with grit, optimism, and respect for the game. They’ve also seen the fortunate bounces and bad lies that come with a life dedicated to golf, but as the old adage says, the most important shot is always the next one. Time marches on. And so does Louisville Golf. They remain committed to what has brought them this far and see that as a springboard into the future.

“We’ve got some products in the works that I think are really innovative and will show what persimmon is really capable of. I think if you’re a better player who can find the sweet spot on a consistent basis, you really should think seriously about persimmon. Especially if you’re looking to get a specific yardage out of your clubs like with a fairway wood or hybrid. There was a video circulating a few years ago with Rickie Fowler using a steel shafted persimmon fairway wood and he was getting a 1.49 smash factor. You can’t get much better than that. The way the bulge and roll is shaped on a persimmon wood and also the location of the CG allows for a bigger gear effect than modern titanium woods. Persimmons do impart more spin on the ball (especially on a mishit), so we acknowledge the ball may not go as far, but that spin also brings the ball back to the target, too. That’s one of the biggest advantages of persimmon. You’ll be shorter but in the fairway as opposed to long and in the trees.

“The people that find us are looking for a deeper connection to the tradition and the spirit of the game. They’re tired of paying for marketing fluff and silly catch phrases. We make viable alternatives for the modern golfer, we make classic reproductions of the steel shaft/persimmon head era of golf, and we make spot-on hickory shafted clubs as well, so we think we have a place in just about everyone’s bag depending on how you prefer to experience the game. Nothing compares to the joy of a purely struck golf shot with a wooden golf club. You just feel like you’re playing golf the way it was meant to be played.”

A visit to Louisville Golf reveals a group of people who have dedicated their lives to exactly that: playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Hard work, attention to detail, a commitment to quality, and having a lot of fun along the way are the hallmarks of their operation. One strike directly on that persimmon sweet spot will send all of those vibes straight into your bones. Playing golf with persimmon woods in the 21st century may be taking the road less traveled, but it could make all the difference.

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