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Swing efficiency: How ugly golf swings win

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Shaun Webb is a PGA Class A Member, a TPI Level 2 Golf Instructor and certified K-Vest Level 2 instructor. 

A question I am often asked as an instructor is, “How can golfers with swings like Tommy Gainey and Jim Furyk hit the ball well enough to win at such a high level?”

Fortunately, with the aid of 3D motion capture systems, we now have been able to identify the true measurement of a good golf swing and have the answer to how unorthodox swings can produce such successful careers. The answer is very simple, SWING EFFICENCY. Before we dive in any further, let me ask you a couple of questions.

  • Are you tired of taking lessons and not improving?
  • Are you working tirelessly on positions of the swing but still not striking the ball the way you would like?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may be in need of some education on the subject of swing style versus swing efficiency. Let start with the subject of swing style: this is how your swing looks on video and to the naked eye or with a video camera. For example, Ernie Els has a more classic swing style, while Jim Furyk has a unique swing style. Both are great ball-strikers and both swing in way that suits them.

So what is swing efficiency? Swing efficiency is how your swing measures and performs and does NOT take into account the way your swing “looks.” Swing efficiency cannot be measure with video and is only measured using 3D technology such as K-Vest 3D Motion Analysis. Swing efficiency looks at the way your body produces energy and power during the golf swing and is quantified using a measurement called the kinematic sequence.

The amazing thing about the kinematic sequence is that two very different swing “styles” can have nearly identical kinematic sequence graphs. Again, Els and Furyk are excellent examples of this fact. Although these two players have swings styles that are on opposite ends of the spectrum visually, they incredibly similar swing efficiency (kinematic sequence) graphs.

For you to better understand the kinematic sequence, it helps to imagine snapping a towel or cracking a whip. The first thing you would do is accelerate the handle of the whip to generate speed. You would then rapidly decelerate the handle to transfer speed to the next part of the whip. The same thing happens in great ball-strikers. Their lower body represents the handle of the whip and the club shaft represents the end of the whip.

The fact of the matter is that all great ball-strikers begin by generating speed from their lower body and transferring that speed through their torso into their arms and then into the club. What style they use to complete this signature is completely unique to each player.

So what does all this mean to you, the frustrated golfer?

It means that you should immediately stop focusing on how closely your swing resembles Tiger or Rory on video camera and ask yourself the following question:

“How can I make my golf swing get the job done?”

The problem is that the typical golf lesson focuses only on swing style and does not even take into account the efficiency of your action. The traditional lesson consists of the instructor pulling up a video of you swinging next to Tiger or Rory. The instructor then proceeds to draw a series of lines proving to you that your swing isn’t performing because you have not put the club in certain “positions” throughout the swing. The instructor then let’s you know that once your swing looks like Tigers or Rory’s you will magically hit the ball much better.

Although this seems like it should work, in reality this style of instruction does not address the most important aspect of solid ball striking — you guessed it, SWING EFFICIENCY. It often boggles my mind how many instructors actually believe that the swing has to “look” a certain way in order to be effective, or that the body and club need to be in any number of positions in order to be considered “good.” In actuality, there is one major determining factor that separates good ball strikers from great ones. I’ll give you a hint — it’s not that the club is “on plane” during the take away.

The amazing thing is that all great ball strikers have the same kinematic sequence or the same signature of generating speed and transferring speed throughout their body. So how can you take advantage of current technology and start training for swing efficiency as opposed to swing style? Your first step would be to locate an instructor in your area who has access to 3D motion analysis technology. The instructor will attach sensors to your body and have you hit balls as he collects the data and generates a graph of your kinematic sequence. Using this data he will answer the following questions:

  1. Is your swing efficient or not?
  2. Where is the efficiency breakdown (takeaway, transition, or downswing)?
  3. What is the cause of the breakdown (physical limitation, mechanics, equipment)

With this information the instructor can give you a concise plan of attack to improve your swing based on one or all of the three areas of efficiency breakdowns. Armed with this information you can then begin a solid training plan that will have you on your way to improved swing performance in the shortest time possible using your own unique swing!  You will be training like a tour player and focusing on what matters most in your golf swing. Instead of making swing changes just for the sake of making it “look” different, you can now objectively look at your swing and only make the changes that produce more efficiency.

I hope that now you have a different understanding of what is a “good” golf swing and strive to learn more about how to make your swing more efficient. In closing, just remember not to ask yourself how you can make your swing look like your favorite tour player.Instead ask yourself, how can I make my swing get the job done?

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum. 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. gabe

    Aug 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I don’t care about my golf score, if it takes me ten, twelve shots to complete the shortest par 4.

    After nearly 10 years of hacking around the course, in the early morn at daybreak b 4 most can see me, I still pursue a far more elusive goal than scratch: Looking fabulous in the full motion of a full swing, completed.

    If there are any instructors out there who can guarantee to make me look fantastic on every swing, no matter where the ball goes, I’d pay good money from oldest child’s College fund, or his piggy bank.

    After viewing videos, 6 years apart, I know this is unthinkable, but I actually look much much worse lately than I did in 2008.

    HELP!!

  2. Nathan

    Sep 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Good points here. One thing I’ve found very underrated in instruction is the sound of the swing, the whoosh. I’ve only been golfing heavily for a year but I find when I’m not hitting well I can get back on track by using my ears. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and when I open them I realize I’m swinging much closer to my feet than before. I just want my swing to sound like Rory’s then I’ll be content.

  3. tlmck

    Dec 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I cannot remember who said it, but I remember some guy saying all great players share one feature in their swings and that is the position at impact.

  4. Bryan

    Dec 13, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Great article. Shaun can attest my “bad” swing would make Furyk look traditional, but it’s effective when shortened and slowed down to let everything work together.

  5. Shaun Webb

    Dec 9, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the kind words everyone…much appreciated

  6. Kris

    Dec 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Great job Shaun, I really enjoyed this article. I’m an instructor in Scottsdale at Boccieri Golf and we use the K-Vest almost exclusively when teaching. The rapid improvement in our students is simply amazing. It’s hands down the quickest way to improve your golf swing. Keep up the good work.

  7. Doug

    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    A real Eye-Opener Shaun! I recently took a series of lessons with the goal of improving consistency. I thought the lessons were pretty high tech, in that they involved video analysis, and using motion sensors to track hip and shoulder turns, with on screen comparisons of my swing positions to pro swings, and on screen lines tracking swing plane, separation etc, etc. BUT, at the end of the lessons my swing became so disjointed and erratic, that I put away my clubs and took a hiatus from golf. Your article described my experience to a “T”

  8. Peter Minot

    Nov 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    This is by far one of the best articles on the golf swing I have read in a long time, as a former teacher I use to tell the student I give two lessons 1 I can teach you how to swing the club or 2 I can teach how to get around the course with the swing you have. I always use to laugh at the statement you must keep your left arm straight on the back swing or your back swing should look like such and my responce always was I have never seen anyone hit the ball on the back swing, it only needs to be straight or as l like better is firm at impact.

  9. Shaun Webb

    Nov 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks Jordy I really appreciate your input and I’m glad you enjoyed it

  10. Jordy

    Nov 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Hi Shaun,

    I’m not used to comment on here, but this is a very nice article which talks about having our OWN swing.

    Unfortunately, Youtube videos, magazines or even tv show (all about golf for sure) shows us how to drive like Rory or play long iron like Tiger etc etc…
    So on one hand, it’s a good thing because we can see how beautiful their swings are, but on the other hand it’s a bad thing because it doesn’t push us to develop our own swing.

    Anyway you did a really good article Shaun.

    Jordy – from France 😉

  11. Matthew

    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    * And i truly believe that this is why Michelle Wie has struggled so mightily. She got where she was BEFORE David Leabetter got ahold of her swing, it used to be fluid and strong, and clearly became mechanized through time. I personally watched them destroy her swing. Sad.

  12. Matthew

    Nov 27, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I could not agree more. at the age of 14 I was a +1 hcp, and I decided to go to highschool at the IMG David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, FL. While there, we spent copious amounts of time working on “positions” and the “3 step backswing” and no time at all working on the individual and what got them there in the first place. I personally got infinitely worse as a result.. they tried to instill a quick wrist set, toe pointing the sky, quick release after impact and a lower finish around the body etc… I left with a scoring average around 78.. significantly worse than when i arrived. I subsequently quit the game, put the clubs in the garage, and didn’t play a sober round of golf for 3 years. Luckily over that time i forgot everything they ever told me, and have since gotten “MY SWING” back, and am proudly playing to a +3hcp, and as a golf professional try to maintain this valuable lesson in all of my teachings. To those who teach positions: you don’t know SH*T. thanks.

  13. andrew cooper

    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting stuff, good article! Somewhere I think a lot of golfers and coaches lost sight of the fact that the swing is essentially an athleitc movement. The obsessive quest of seeking “perfect” static positions through the movement screwed up so many otherwise good athletes.
    And the positions broadly take care of themselves when a golfer learns good sequencing anyway-not the other way round. Good to see new technology being used to actually help golfers.
    Think you’re really on the money with this!

  14. Shaun Webb

    Nov 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks Trevor. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
    SW

  15. Trevor

    Nov 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    This is a really good article. I think the points listed in this article are a very good reason why Ben Hogans 5 Lessons book sold so many copies, it teaches the fundamentals and helps build efficiency in your basic golf swing. This article says the same thing! Efficiency is key to consistency.

    Greta stuff!

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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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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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