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It takes a village: How to improve at golf

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Roy: I’m catching it on the hosel, right?
Romeo: Yeah right, right, right.
Roy: Moving my head?
Romeo: Yeah
Roy: I’m laying it off?
Romeo: Well that too.
Roy: I’m pronating.
Romeo: Well you’re not supinating.
Roy: I’m clearin too early, I’m clearin too late. My God, my swing feels like an unfoldin lawn chair!
Romeo: All right…take all your change and put it in your left-hand pocket. Go on, do it Roy.
Roy: All right
Romeo: Alright now, tie your…left shoe in a double knot.
Roy: Tie my left shoe?
Romeo: Right now Roy, do it! Turn the hat around backwards. Turn your hat around. Do it, Roy! Now take this tee and stick it …[pause] …behind your left ear.
Roy: Stick it…I look like a fool!
Romeo: Well what the hell you think you look like shootin them chili peppers up Lee Janzen’s ass? And you do it right now or I swear to God I’m gonna quit. I swear to God I’ll quit.
Roy: All right
Romeo: All Right, good. Now, Take this little ball, and hit it the hell up the fairway. You’re ready…[sigh]
[Roy hits the ball straight]
Roy: How’d I do that?
Romeo: Because you’re not thinking about shankin, you’re not thinkin about the Doctor Lady. You’re not thinking period. You’re just looking like a FOOL!, and you’re hitting the ball pure and simple…
Roy: That’s it?
Romeo: Yeah, That’s it. Your BRAIN was getting in the way.

We are all on this golfing journey together and sometimes, okay, a lot of times, we need a little help from our friends on GolfWRX. Even the great ball-striker Roy “Tin-Cup” McAvoy needs swing knowledge dropped on him, and he obviously needs cabeza training performed by his “Doctor Lady” head shrink.

Romeo does a masterful job of removing the technical jargon and gets Tin Cup to stop getting his “brain in the way”. But there’s more to golf than some on range swing band-aides. Roy didn’t almost win the U.S. Open on his own; he had help, a lot of help. We too need help to fully understand the swing like Roy does, understand psychology, train our moves, and even more importantly, take all this knowledge, simplify it, and “get the ball up the fairway”.

Where do WE, #AverageJoeGolfers and #AverageJaneGolfers, go if we don’t have Romeo as a caddy, a Doctor Lady psychologist, or a “Team” like Jordan? It Takes a Village, so we build one. Reading about golf on GolfWRX is just one very small aspect of building your Village and improving your game. We need knowledge AND we need to arm ourselves with a host of skillsets and build our own Village on the cheap, particularly since we don’t have Tour Player bankrolls?

Each part of your Village can be thought of as a cog in a machine, and if you remove a cog, or it gets rusty or doesn’t fit right…you get the picture, your Village won’t help you hit the ball straight or score well. While adding additional villagers is important, to improve, you need to have exposure to every one of the following
factors.

1. Find a Coach – My Golf Coach, Tim Overman, is my friend and has a diversified set of golf knowledge from various sources, aka a high #Golf-IQ. He’s also someone with good communication skills and has a ‘Village Philosophy’ as opposed to a “My Way” of doing things. He is a voracious researcher of the golf swing, is agnostic to one “swing theory”, and isn’t afraid of the process of creative destruction, which means he’s constantly searching for ways to get better and utilize input from a multitude of sources. [Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t wavering and doesn’t change my move each week, he is simply a knowledge sponge.] He listens more than he speaks, has a training plan that is focused on making students “do the reps”, and participates in playing lessons and situational practice routines with each of his students. Tim also explains the “why?” of what he’s teaching, and arms me with the knowledge to be my own coach when he isn’t around. Be selective because unfortunately, Tim is part of a small subset of quality instructors, so do your homework! Tim is also a huge contributor to this, and future, articles by the way.

2. Read & Listen – A good place to start your Village is in the absorption category. Tim and I both try to read any books we can get our hands on relating to psychology, course management, swing theory, teaching, and the game of golf. You may want to throw in some entertaining books in the mix as well; start with Dead Solid Perfect, Golf in the Kingdom, and A Course Called Ireland. We like to listen to podcasts of world-class instructors to get their perspective on instruction. Start with Earn Your Edge by Cameron McCormick and Corey Lundberg of Altus Performance. Caution: Don’t head out to the range or worse your local muni with all your newfound knowledge looking for the secret; the Read & Listen suggestion is primarily to arm yourself with knowledge. We’ll get to the ‘How to get better?’ in a bit.

3. Prepare Psychologically – The easiest way for #AverageJoeGolfers to prepare mentally is to work on the head game. For starters there are some online affordable games you can sign up for that will help you concentrate, check out THINQ. Another option is to work with your buddies. Play rounds where you mess with each other by coughing, jingling keys, or allow other sensible distractions while playing. The key here is to have fun with distractions as opposed to being annoyed by them. It’s hard, a lot of people struggle here, but the effort will pay off hugely as you improve as a golfer. See #2 (Read & Listen).

4. Train your Move – It doesn’t take a country club membership to get better at golf, all you need is a little space in your garage, living room, or backyard. You need to put in the work, start slow, and do reps without that little white devil staring you in the face. The ball tends to make us make funky moves that don’t resemble what we need to do to have success striking a golf ball. So we want to train your body to move properly before we introduce a club or ball. We strongly believe you can make massive improvements in the comfort of your own home in front of a mirror or camera.

5. Ingrain your Move – When you transition from moving your body to moving your body with a club in your hand and then moving your body with a club in your hand and a ball in front of you, you need to add complexity slowly. You also need to do a lot of chunky practice to make sure you are moving properly. Think about learning to drive…You didn’t jump into the seat and enter the Indy 500 a week after you first got your permit; you learned in a classroom, got in a simulator before live action in a parking lot, then put around backcountry roads, and finally you took your mom’s Thunderbird to the dragstrip to see what it could do.

6. Situational Practice (with a Purpose) – Once you feel your move is properly ingrained into your muscle memory, you’ll want to practice under stress (golf isn’t played on a driving range). This is the opposite of heading to the range and raking ball after ball in front of you, mindlessly hitting at air targets. Go to a muni at night, find a tree, put a few balls behind it and try to work the ball around it, and then switch to different situations that are progressively more difficult. If you can’t find a muni or course where you can hop on to practice shots, use your imagination at the range.

7. Get Fit for your Clubs using real data (Launch Monitor) – For regular GolfWRXers this isn’t new, but for anyone stumbling on this article, make sure your clubs fit you, Full STOP!

8. Get a Routine and Warm Up before rounds – You can time PGA Tour players with a stopwatch, and they’d all have similar times it takes them to pull a club and then hit their shot. This is a simple adjustment that you need to train into your game, and it takes zero skills and pays huge dividends. You should also warm-up prior to rounds if your muni has a range, and even if it doesn’t, hit some chips and get your green speed nailed down before your round. Scoring will greatly improve.

9. Join a Community – I play in the Harding Park Men’s club for less and $200 a year and train virtually with Tim, my partner, coach, and good buddy. Tim and I also challenge each other on how to train, what to do to improve, how to dissect new swing theories and what we can do to help others like you in a simple and effective way.

We train, we read, we research, we listen and absorb the teachings and coaching of some well-known, and some less well known, instructors. This makes us feel like we have built a pretty good VILLAGE. To “Make the Big Dog Eat”, and ensure that that “Tuning Fork Rings in Your Loins” more often than not, make sure you Build Your Village.

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Matt Strube is a certified golf geek who started playing golf later in life. He quickly developed a passion for the game, and in 1997, Matt and his partner wrote atheir honors thesis, ‘The Golf University’, that focused on bringing golf to the masses through specialized golf training programs. In 2012, Matt began working with Tim Overman at Golf in Motion Chicago to train his move and lower his handicap from 24 to 7 in just two-years. Matt has now partnered with Tim to bring simple and effective golf instruction to #AverageGolfers through an online workout style home training program. Matt currently works a day job in the corporate world. Tim Overman is the technical contributor to instruction articles, Co-Founder, and Director of Golf Instruction for True Motion Sports. Tim coaches golfers of all abilities out of his Chicago studio.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. DS

    Jul 6, 2019 at 1:57 am

    Thoughtful column. Other than 1-2 minor differences (like, it’s hard to keep someone new to the game interested enough to groove a repeatable swing without actually hitting a ball), I agree completely with the Village concept. The typical approach of lessons on the range simply doesn’t work. Add in that getting most pros to take the time to do playing lessons is typically pretty difficult, and throw in the cost-prohibitive nature of them, and is it any wonder most good players were either top high school or college players? Access to consistent coaching tailored to your individual needs and ingrained with playing lessons and competitive reinforcement. Perfect, right? But not doable for the vast majority of recreational players.

    So how do you improve? I’ve done it via a combination of short bursts of intense instruction from different teachers (golf schools; part of my own Village), absorbing what works for me and quickly discarding what doesn’t, and Hogan’s dirt approach by making time to practice at least 5 hours a week. I was a 17 index 15 months ago, am a 10.1 currently, and this week was able to shoot 84, 83, and 76. My trend is 9.1 and I’ll get 2-3 more rounds in before the next revision. My goal is to be a 7.x by November and my stretch goal is to get to 5.x. Part of my practice involves simulated play and I’m also incorporating a Par 3 course to get more granular with my wedge game. I love the practice element and using an objective analytical approach for where to focus my practice time helps and fits my personality. I’m also reading golf books like Every Shot Must Have A Purpose, Every Shot Counts, and How To Make Every Putt. Lastly, I spend 2-3 hours a week reviewing YouTube instructional videos on the things I’m focusing on that week(s). It gets as granular as ‘what should the left shoulder be doing during the downswing’ and the focus + the amount of time spent understanding these details has been immensely beneficial. It has changed me from a swayer to a turner, and from a guy who lost 15 balls in 18 holes 3 summers ago to a guy who went 2 rounds in a row without losing one (practically a miracle to a former sprayer like me).

    Thanks for the column. Looking forward to subsequent ones.

  2. Radim Pavlicek

    Jul 3, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Take notes during practice. Write performance notebook.

  3. MattStrube

    Jul 2, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Frank, Thank you for the comment. It sounds like you’re a ‘get on the bike and ride it’ kinda guy, which is great. 🙂 The point of the article was to illustrate that to shoot lower scores and improve your game, golfers need help from a number of different sources.

    To be clear, we aren’t preaching “perfect” swing mechanics, and the article does not mention that at all, however, I want to answer your comment. While your suggestion of working on hitting the sweet spot is a great one, I wish it was as easy as just focusing there.
    In our experience, we know golfers can improve much faster if they learn to properly move their body first, then train those moves without a ball, over-and-over before they even think about hitting a ball. We’ve had much more success with all levels of golfers when we take this approach and then slowly transition to hitting the little devil of a golf ball. I hope this helps.

  4. Frank

    Jul 2, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    The PGA Tour TrackMan averages chart show that their launch direction and spin axis are positive, meaning they hit a push-fade. How about instead of focusing on your “perfect” swing mechanics, you just focus on hitting the sweet spot and creating a push-fade (not with a leftward club path, the path needs to be just right of target with the club face angle just a bit more right than the path) and making sure the body movement doesn’t cause injury? If it doesn’t hurt then keep doing it, no matter how strange it may look. It is a lot more simple to focus on one ball than multiple different body movements.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve recaps his match with the 2nd assistant and Knudson’s golf weekend

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Steve recaps his match against the 2nd assistant and if he won or lost. Knudson gets asked about a guys golf weekend and if his back will hold up. Knudson tosses his brother under the bus.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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19th Hole

5 men who need to win this week’s Open Championship for their season to be viewed as a success

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The year’s final major championship is upon us, with 156 players ready to battle it out at Royal Portrush for the Claret Jug. The oldest tournament in the sport presents the last opportunity for players to achieve major glory for nine months, and while some players will look back at this year’s majors and view them as a success, others will see them as a missed opportunity.

Here are five players who will tee it up at The Open, needing a win to transform their season, and in doing so, their career.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott has looked revived in 2019 with four top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the PGA Championship. The Australian hasn’t won since 2016, and at 39-years-old, Scott knows better than anyone that the final narrative over his career comes down to whether or not he can add to his lone major championship victory he achieved at the 2013 Masters.

Speaking following his final round at Pebble Beach last month, Scott stated

“I’m angry; I want to win one of these so badly. I play so much consistent golf. But that’s kind of annoying; I’d almost rather miss every cut and win one tournament for the year if that win was a major.” 

A gut-wrenching finish cost Scott the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes seven years ago, and the 39-year-old has held at least a share of the back-nine lead on Sunday on three occasions at the event since 2012. The Australian’s statement following the U.S. Open says it all; a successful 2019 depends on whether or not he can finally put his Open Championship demons to bed.

Dustin Johnson

With a win in Mexico earlier this year, Dustin Johnson has now made it 11 straight seasons with at least one victory on the PGA Tour. However, Johnson continues to be judged, rightly or wrongly, on his struggles to capture major championships. The 35-year-old remains on one major victory for his career, which is a hugely disappointing total for a player of his talent.

Should the American remain stuck on one major for another nine months following this week’s event, it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old feeling satisfied. Johnson came to Pebble Beach last month as the prohibitive favorite and failed to fire, but it’s what occurred at the PGA Championship which will leave a sour taste. With Brooks Koepka feeling the heat, Johnson had the opportunity to step up and reverse his major championship fortune, but two bogeys in his final three holes just added to his ‘nearly man’ tag at the most significant events.

A win in Northern Ireland removes both the ‘nearly man’ and ‘one major wonder’ tags, and turns his least successful season, victory wise, into one of his best.

Rory McIlroy

Whatever happens this week at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy’s season has been impressive, but it’s missing something big. That something is a win at a major championship, and it’s been missing since 2014. To avoid a five-year drought at the majors, McIlroy must win the 148th Open Championship at home, and with it, claim the greatest victory of his career.

Speaking prior to this week’s tournament, McIlroy stated

“I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”

The home-town hero is currently in the midst of one of the greatest ball-striking seasons of all time. But without a win at a major to show for it, there’s undoubtedly going to be frustration and regret in the aftermath. On the flip side, should the Ulsterman triumph this week then it would likely eclipse his double major season success of 2014, and according to the man himself, it would also eclipse anything that he could ever go on to achieve in the game thereafter.

Rickie Fowler

Without getting his hands on a major, the narrative behind Rickie Fowler is not going to change. ‘The best player without a major’ tag has been there for a while now with Fowler – who hasn’t been close to shaking it off in 2019. Victory at the Phoenix Open back in February snapped a 24-month streak without a win on the PGA Tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone considering the 30-year-old’s season a success without him finally getting the monkey off his back and entering the winner’s circle at a major.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose turns 39-years-old this year, and each season from now to the house, he will be judged on his success at the majors. With  wins at the U.S. Open and Olympics already achieved in his career, a successful season for the Englishman now depends on whether he can become a multiple major champion.

Talking ahead of his bid to win his first Open Championship, Rose said

“People don’t come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you won the FedEx!’. It’s the US Open, the Olympic gold, the Ryder Cup. I’m 40 next year and yes, the clock is ticking.

I’ve had three top threes in the majors in the last three seasons, with two seconds, so I know I’m right there doing the right things. It’s just a case of making it happen again, because the chances won’t keep coming forever.”

Rose’s sense of urgency may stem from tough losses at the 2017 Masters, 2018 Open Championship and more recently at the 2019 U.S. Open. In Rose’s favor is that the average age of winners of The Open since 2011 is almost five years higher than the average age of those who won the Masters, and over eight years older than those who won the U.S. Open. To elevate his 2019 to elite levels, Rose is relying on victory at Royal Portrush.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 2: Pitching

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As I wrote two weeks ago, I consider there to be five basic elements to “scoring range performance”, and I dove into the full swing shorts irons and wedges last week. This week I’m going to address “pitching,” which I define as those shots with your wedges that require much less than a full swing. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of golf to master, but the good news is that it is within reach of every golfer, as physical strength is pretty much neutralized in this aspect of the game.

Before I get into this, however, please understand that I am writing a weekly article here, and do not for a minute think that I can deliver to you the same level of insight and depth that you can get from any of the great books on the short game that are available. There are some genuine “gurus” out there who have made a living out of writing books and sharing their expertise—Dave Pelz, Stan Utley, et al. One of my favorites from a long time ago is Tom Watson’s “Getting Up and Down.” The point is, if you are committed to improving this part of your game, it will take much more than a few hundred words from a post of mine to get you there.

I will also suggest that there are no short cuts to an effective short game. I know of no other way to become a deadly chipper and pitcher of the ball than to invest the time to learn a sound technique and develop the touch skills that allow you to hits an endless variety of shots of different trajectories, distances and spin rates. As the old saying goes: “If it were easy everyone would do it.” In my opinion, it is mostly short game skills that separate good players from average, and great ones from good. Those greenside magicians we see on TV every week didn’t get there by spending minimal time learning and practicing these shots.

So, with that “disclaimer” set forth, I will share my thoughts on the basic elements of good pitching technique, as I see it.

As with any golf shot, a sound and proper set up is crucial to hitting great pitch shots
consistently. I believe great pitch shots are initiated by a slightly open stance, which allows you
to clear your body through impact and sets up the proper swing path, as I’ll explain later.

Your weight distribution should be favored to your lead foot, the ball should be positioned for the shot you want to hit (low, medium or high) and maybe most importantly, your hands must be positioned so that they are hanging naturally from your shoulders. I firmly believe that great pitch shots cannot be hit if the hands are too close or too far from your body.

The easy way to check this is to release your left hand from the grip, and let it hang naturally, then move the club so that the left hand can take its hold. The clubhead will then determine how far from the ball you should be. To me, that is the ideal position from which to make a good pitch shot.

Second is the club/swing path. I believe the proper path for good pitch shots has the hands moving straight back along a path that is nearly parallel to the target line, and the through swing moving left after impact. This path is set up by the more open stance at address. The gurus write extensively about swing path, and they all seem to pretty much agree on this as a fundamental. Taking the club back too far inside the line is probably more damaging than too far outside, as the latter is really pretty hard to do actually. My observations of recreational golfers indicate that the inside backswing path is “set up” by the ball being too close or too far from their feet at address, as I explained earlier.

I also believe (from observation and experience) that many recreational golfers do not engage their torso enough in routine pitch shots. This is NOT an arm swing; a rotation of the shoulders is tantamount to good pitch shots, and the shoulders must keep rotating through impact. Stopping the rotation at impact is, in my observation, the main cause of chunks and bladed shots, as that causes the clubhead to move past the hands and get out of plane.

Finally, I’ll address swing speed. Again, in my observation, most recreational golfers get too quick with this part of the game. The swing is shorter for these shots, but that should not make it quicker. One of my favorite analogies is to compare golf to a house painter. In the wide-open areas, he uses a sprayer or big roller for power, and works pretty darn quickly. As he begins to cut in for the windows and doors, he chooses a smaller brush and works much more slowly and carefully. Finally, he chooses very specialized trim brushes to paint the window and door trim, baseboards, etc. I like to compare our wedges to the painter’s trim brushes. Slow and careful wins.

I think learning distance control is the hardest part of becoming a good pitcher of the ball. And there are many approaches to this part of the equation. My opinion is that your expectations and therefore your approach to this aspect of it should be commensurate with your willingness to spend the time on the range or course. And I just do not know of a short cut, I’m sorry to say. But I will share something that I’ve learned works pretty well and is reasonably easy to learn.

First, find a “half swing” length that feels comfortable to you, and by that I mean repeatable. For most, it seems to be where the lead arm is about parallel to the ground. From that position, I like to think of three different downswing speeds – country road (i.e. 50 mph), neighborhood driving (30 mph) and school zone (15 mph). We’ll leave freeway speed for the driver, and regular highway speed for our fairways, hybrids and irons.

If you can internalize what these three speeds feel like for you, it only takes a little time to figure out how far each wedge goes at these three speeds, and then you can further dissect this by gripping down on each wedge to cut those gaps even tighter.

Again, I’m limited by space in this blog, but these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about meaningful practice and implementation. And in no way, are these few words intended to cover the subject as thoroughly as Pelz, Utley and others have done in series of books and videos. The more you learn and practice, the better you will get. That’s just the facts.

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19th Hole

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