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8 game-improvement hacks for the time-poor golfer

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Between work, family, and life in general, you barely have time to squeeze in an episode of Westworld or Black Mirror. And when you do have time, your significant other is probably nagging you to do some random chore that’s apparently been sitting there for three months. The last thing on your to-do list is golf practice. We get it, but what if we could give you a 20-minute practice tip that would give you more than the same tired 2-hour practice session?

Sounds too good to be true, right? Hear me out before making any assumptions (or jumping off any cliffs, if we’re sticking with the Westworld theme.)

Game Hack 1 — 20:20 Range Practice

Let us introduce you to 20:20. No, we aren’t talking about vision, although we can see how you’d make that mistake. 20:20 is an easy drill I learned from Motor Learning Expert, Dr. Tim Lee. So, why is it called 20:20? Thought you’d never ask.

Take 20 golf balls, then allocate 20 minutes. There’s your 20:20. Make each golf ball last 1 minute, which gives you time to have practice swings, pick a target, shot type or even a different club. The actual change you select doesn’t matter too much, but the thinking involved does.

Physical Hack 1 — Train Your Swing at Home

As analysis tools become more mobile, it’s now obvious that we unconsciously adapt our movement mechanics to suit the lie, slope, wind, desired trajectory, and outcome. This is good for scoring but bad for training a new pattern.

If you are trying to make a swing change, it’s best to do most of it away from the course without that distracting white object tempting you back into old habits. Training your new move with feedback allows for quality control and no incentive to make your old move. Here’s an example of some useful drills that will help most people to move better using the GravityFit TPro:

Game Hack 2 — Interleaved Practice

You’ve heard of random practice, right? If not, it’s simple. Rather than doing the same thing over and over, do a bunch of things in no order. Interleave practice is an adaptation of that.

Rather than doing the same thing over and over, or a bunch of things in no order (I know, we’re probably starting to sound like your significant other again,) take two or more practice tasks and complete however many repetitions you want, but never in succession. This allows you to focus on particular aspects of your game but encourages the same thinking as random practice. It’s sort of like an organized chaos, but interleaved practice fosters better learning.

Physical Hack 2 — Fuel, Hydrate, Rest

When you don’t have much time to practice, you might as well nail the parts you can control. Cognitive and physical performance is heavily influenced by the intake of food, water, and sleep.

  • Fuel: Unrefined carbs, healthy fats, lean protein. Eggs and oatmeal, nuts and bananas, jerky.
  • Hydrate: Water. Drink lots and lots of water.
  • Rest: Good bed and pillow. Dark, quiet, temperature-controlled room for 7-9 hours.

Game Hack 3 — The Power of One-Putting

How often do you walk on the putting green with more than one golf ball? All the time, right? It’s as habitual as leaving the toilet seat up… we get it. We used to do the same. As it turns out, this isn’t helpful in most cases (taking multiple balls to the green, that is. Leaving the toilet seat is never helpful. NEVER!)

From now on, do everyone a favor and just take one ball to the green. Doing so forces you to do all the things you would do on the golf course. Things like reading the green, picking a target, feeling the speed, taking practice strokes, all are vital when playing for real, and shouldn’t be glazed over during practice.

Physical Hack 3 — Warm Up

If you take 10 minutes to warm up before you play, your body and swing will thank you. Working with PGA Tour professionals, we’ve seen all manner of weird and wonderful things being performed in the name of pre-round preparation. Here are the 3 most common themes across that myriad of approaches:

  • Self Massage/Release: Using a foam roller or massage ball, roll out your feet, hip flexors, glutes, low back, mid back, and pecs. It’s a bonus if you have time for the other bits.
  • Dynamic Movement: Take the 3 key areas for rotation through some range – hips, shoulders, and T-Spine.
  • Posture and Rotation: Set your posture right and practice good quality rotations.

European Tour player David Lipsky working some hip mobility

Game Hack 4 — What is the best miss?

So, you deal with the nagging about chores, the rotating-head mini-possession spawned by leaving the toilet seat up, etc., yet you have no desire to even think about leaving the relationship, right? Why? Because it’s just a part of a relationship. It’s a partnership, and the negatives don’t come close to having the same impact as the positives.

So, what brings us back to this stressful, heart wrenching, God-forsaken game we call golf? Likely, it’s hitting that one shot that reminds us of our favorite PGA Tour player. For the team at GLT, it’s Tiger Woods chip shot at the 16th green of the Masters, the shot that made the Nike Platinum Golf Ball’s ad one of the best ever made.

Anyway, we all like to think we can pull our own particular favorite shot off more often than not, but the reality is we can’t. Rather, using Scott Fawcett’s Decade System approach, we should identify three areas for missing the fairway or green. We should then label them “1” for an easy up and down, “2” for a moderate chance of getting up and down, and “3” for a no go (no chance of getting up and down.)

Arick Zeigel, a quality junior golf coach, uses this system, as do countless other top golf coaches, and they all say that even an average player should have a general idea of their bad shots or tendencies. Use that knowledge to identify where you wouldn’t mind missing it — because you will (we all will) miss it often. If we’re honest, we’d miss the nagging, too.

Physical Hack 4 — Add Golf Stuff to Your Workouts

Hopefully, you do some physical exercise… or are at least considering it. Rather than dedicating precious work out time specifically to golf, kick your aesthetic goals and include some golf relevant exercises while you’re at it. Here are the what’s and why’s of my favorites, which give plenty of golf specific bang for your buck:

  • Standing Cable Row: Balance, stability, rotation, back strength, scapula control
  • Goblet Squat: Leg and glute strength, posture, core, grip
  • Single Arm Over-Head Press: Shoulder strength, postural awareness, core
  • Split Stance Turns (with TPro): Balance, posture, quality rotation, feedback on movement

There you have it, our 8 hacks to get the most out of the precious few moments you’re able to grab your clubs and practice. As for Westworld or Black Mirror, sorry, we can’t help you there. And… relationship advice? Have you tried Oprah? Maybe Cosmo? Listening — as in actual listening — usually does wonders for us. If you find any hacks for that, be sure to send them our way.

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At GLT Golf, we place an emphasis on motor learning and sports psychology research. We take the latest information available, then present it in a way that is practical, easy to understand and easy to replicate. By guiding golfers and golf coaches through the principles of recreating, simulating, regulating and chunking, we're able to help develop a training environment that prepares them to access the best golf swing possible when on the golf course. These articles are brought to you through a collaboration of Matthew Cooke, COO, Iain Highfield, Director of Education, Arick Zeigel, Head Coach, and Joseph Culverhouse, Manager of Content and Communications. GLT Golf - Think Differently. Train Differently.

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Instruction

How-to Series: How to move your hips on the backswing

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Lucas Wald How To Series: How to move your hips on the backswing

This is the first installment in our How To Series — follow this plan to master the movements of the hips on the backswing!


Watch the series introduction here

This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction — master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!

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How “long arms” at the top of the backswing can help you hit the ball farther

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One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to make a big shoulder turn with extended arms at the top. It’s the swing of a younger golfer! However, every one of us can add width at the top so we can hit it further, but few know how to actually do so. In this article, I will use MySwing 3D Motion Analysis to help you understand how beneficial long arms are at the top.

As you examine the swing of this particular player, you will notice that the lead arm is “soft” and the hands are close to this player’s head at the top. This is the classic narrow armswing to the top that most older players employ. And as we all know this position leaves yardage in the bag!

Now let’s look at the data so we can see what is actually happening…

At the top you can see that the shoulders have turned 100 degrees which is more than enough, but the arms look jammed and narrow at the top. Why?

The answer lies within the actions of the rear arm, the lead arm is only REACTING to the over-bending of the rear elbow. As you can see at the top the rear elbow is bent 60 degrees. In a perfect world, when the rear elbow is at 90 degrees (a right angle) or more, the lead arm will be mostly straight — depending on how you’re built.

Something to note…in this position the hands are just past the chest and the shoulders have turned almost 90 degrees. However, when this player finished his backswing, he added 30 more degrees of rear elbow bend and only 11 more degrees of shoulder turn! What this means is that for the last quarter of the backswing, all this player did is allow the hands to basically collapse to the top of the backswing. This move is less than efficient and will cause major issues in your downswing sequencing, as well as, your transitional action.

As stated when your trail elbow stays at 90 degrees or wider in route to the top, you will have a much straighter lead arm.

One last thing to note when comparing these two players is that this player two had a shorter backswing length but a BIGGER shoulder turn with WIDER arms at the top, giving this player a short compact motion that resembles Adam Scott — which seems to work for he and Butch!

Therefore, the thing to remember is that if your lead arm is soft at the top and your arms look crowded at the top, then you must fix the over-bending of the rear elbow on the backswing. And if you have wider arms you will have a more solid “package” to become a ballstriking machine!

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Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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