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Stickney: Correctly auditing your ballflight without technology

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One of the biggest advances in golf instruction, in my opinion, was the adoption (by the masses) of the “new ball-flight laws.” While this information was first identified in “The Search for the Perfect Swing” as well as “The Golfing Machine” books it was not truly taught in the mainstream by teachers until the last decade. In fact, there are still millions of golfers who are still in the dark as it pertains to how curvature is created.

Thankfully, launch monitors have become more popular and now most people have some type of ability to hit balls using Trackman, etc., and this has helped inform the masses as to what is really happening during the impact interval. In today’s article, I want to show you how to audit your ball-flight if you DO NOT have access to a launch monitor. And if you’ll ask yourself these few simple questions you will have a much better idea as to what is happening and why your ball is doing what it’s doing!

“The New Ball-Flight Rules”

  • The ball begins mostly in the direction of the face angle direction at impact (Face Angle)
  • The ball will curve away from the path with a centered hit on the face (Path)
  • The amount of curvature at the apex is mostly determined by the difference in direction between where the face points at impact and the direction of the path at impact (Face to Path)
  • The impact point on the clubface can render the above obsolete or exaggerate it depending on where it’s impacted on the face (Impact Point)

Now that you know and understand the rules, here’s how you audit your ball’s flight without a launch monitor present…

Find your Impact Point Before Making Any Other Judgements

Before we begin delving deeply into your ball’s flight, let’s first stop for a second and figure out what our impact bias is currently. Yes, everyone has an impact bias—some are more toe-based while others are more heel-sided. It’s just the way it works and it’s mega-important. If you don’t have control of your impact point then all else is moot.
In order to do so, first hit a few balls on a flat lie and spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s spray, then take a look at what you see on the face, where are the marks? I’m not asking you for perfection here, because if you hit it slightly on the toe or slightly on the heel then you’re ok.

However, if your average clustering of shots is extremely biased on the toe or the heel then stop and figure out WHY you are hitting the ball off-center. Until you can contact the ball in the center of the face (within reason) then you will not be able to control your ball’s curvature due to gear effect.

If your impact point clustering is manageable, then ask yourself these three questions to truly understand your ball’s flight…

Number 1: Where did the ball begin?

I want you to draw a straight line from your ball through your target as you see in the left photo in your mind so you now have a “zero” reference. If you need to create this visual on the practice tee then you can put a rope or some string on the ground between the ball and the target creating a straight line from the ball through the rope and onward to the target itself.

Now back to the shot above, as you can see at impact, this player’s ball started slightly LEFT of his target-line—as shown by the arrow in the left frame which depicts the face angle at impact. In the right frame, you can easily see the ball beginning a touch left right from the beginning.

The numbers prove what we discussed earlier

  • The face direction at impact was -2.8 degrees left of the target
  • The ball’s launching direction is -1.7 degrees left of the target

As we know the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face and since the face was left of the target the ball also began slightly leftward as well.

So by paying attention to your ball’s starting direction as it pertains to the “zero line” (or where you’re trying to go) you can guess where the face is pointing at impact.

Number 2: Which direction did the ball curve?

Now, take a second and look at the right frame: We see that the ball curved leftward which means the path had to be more rightward than where the face was pointing at impact. If the ball begins where you want it to start and curves the way you want then you have the face and path in the correct place!

If we want to audit the numbers just to be sure, then let’s take a deeper look:

Trackman shows that the club path was 1.9 degrees right of the target and we just saw that the face was -2.8 degress left of the target on this shot. With centered impact anytime the face direction at impact is left of the path the ball will curve leftward. The negative spin-axis of this shot of -7.9 tells us that the ball is moving to the left as well.

If you want the ball to curve to the left then the path must be further right than that and vice-versa for a fade…pretty simple, right?

Number 3: How Much Did the Ball Curve at The Apex?

Question three is an important one because it helps us to understand what our face to path relationship is doing.

Curvature is created when the face and path point in different directions (with a centered hit) and the bigger the difference between the face and path direction the more the ball will curve…especially as you hit clubs with lower lofts.

Every player wants to see a certain amount of curvature. Some players want very little curve, thus their face to path numbers are very close together while others want more curve and the face to path numbers are larger. It does not matter what amount of curvature you like to “see” as the player…all flights will work. Think Moe Norman on one extreme to Bubba Watson on the other.

To close…

First, you must hit the ball in the center of the face to have a predictable curvature if you hit it all over the face then you invoke gear effect which can exaggerate or negate your face to path relationship.

Second, where did the ball begin? Most players whom draw the ball fear the miss that starts at their target and moves leftward (as depicted in the photo above) this is a FACE issue. The face is left of the TARGET at impact and thus the ball does not begin right enough to begin at the correct portion of the target.

If you hit the ball and it starts correctly but curves too much from right to left then your path is to blame.

Third, if your ball is curving the correct direction then your path is fine, but if it’s doing something other than what you want and you are starting the ball where you want then your path is either too far left or right depending on which way the ball is curving.

Fourth, if your ball curvature at the apex is moving too much and your ball is starting where you want then your path is too far left or right of your face angle at impact exaggerating your face to path ratio. The bigger the difference between these two the more the ball curves (with a centered hit) with all things being equal.

Samples to view

This is a path issue…the ball began correctly but curved too much rightward. Don’t swing so much leftward and the face-to-path will be reduced and the ball will curve less.

This is a great push draw…the ball began correctly and curved the correct amount back to the target

This is a face issue at impact…the ball did not begin far enough to the right before curving back leftward and the target was missed too far to the left

Take your time when auditing your ball’s flight, and I believe you’ll find your way!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. geohogan

    Sep 23, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Are there no instructors in NA or Europe who teach an ‘underplane’ golf swing? none?

    Nope, only over- the-top, tumbling D – Planers now.

  2. DR

    Sep 16, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    In your 3 samples at the end, you appear to have posted the 2nd pic twice.

  3. Ryan

    Sep 12, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Could you imagine if Nelson, Hogan, or Snead had the use of this technology back in the day? Shoot even Nickalus in his prime.

  4. Jaime

    Sep 11, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Great article. What I would point out is that finding the middle will vary by iron. As an example – my Ping S58s have the sweet spot closer to the hosel than what I think is the center of the head. A quick ball bounce check across various points on the face will give you an idea of ideal center.

  5. Dennis Clark

    Sep 11, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Spot on Tom. Mike Neff has a great term for this he calls “face mapping” and it is often overlooked but, as I explain to everybody I teach, they cannot tell anything from their ball flight without finding the middle. I’m doing an article in my senior series about this as well. I go through 5-6 cans of Dr. Scholl’s a season for this reason.

  6. Randy Bernard

    Sep 11, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I agree: helpful article, and the third picture is a duplicate of the second one. Which points toward my other suggestion (plea): Get a proofreader. I’m a professional, and I doubt that it’s worth paying for someone like me for this sort of article for this audience, but if you know someone or have someone on staff who could take a quick look—and no, spell checkers aren’t enough—that would potentially help people like me keep from pulling their hair out—and potentially boost your credibility to a larger audience. (Same issue, btw, with the whole website.)

  7. John Comninaki

    Sep 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Once again a concise and well organized article that should be helpful to many of the readers. Thanks and nice job.

  8. Editor

    Sep 11, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Very nice article, but I believe the last graphic is not the one you had intended.

  9. Doesnotno

    Sep 11, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Great article, thanks – well explained. The third picture in the samples needs changing!

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Instruction

6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

 

Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back

 

Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension

 

Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

 

The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.

 

In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.

 

If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

Nick Randall – golffitpro.net

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Instruction

Stickney: The dangers of technology on the lesson tee

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One of the best things about golf instruction is the advent of technology to help teacher to better understand what is really happening during the swing. As we know, the swing takes but a blink of the eye, and it’s hard to see, much less, feel, what is going on when you hit the ball.

Therefore, teachers have employed different technologies in order to help them (and you) understand what is really going on…but the key is still the communication of the data output.

One of my biggest complaints in the industry is the teacher who uses technology and consistently ties their students up in knots mentally. Of course, you can have a simple misunderstanding between the teacher and student from time to time- we all fight this, but I’m talking about the teacher who would make a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering confused leading to paralysis through over-analysis.

In fact, take a look around your club, we all know a guy who has taken lessons and has become so over-consumed with the minutia of their mechanics that they can’t even draw it back! Where did this over-technical approach come from? Usually the teacher they have been working with.

My job is to insulate my players from all the crap that they don’t need to be concerned with while using technology and provide them the simplest way to improve.

Therefore the message from the teacher MUST be tailored to the level of the player and the player’s learning style. As players, we learn either verbally, visually, and/or kinesthetically and the teacher must have a working knowledge of the differences. Using technology makes this easer on the student—you can do it without technology, but it’s much harder.

Golf instruction does NOT have to be complicated when using technology, as many people falsely believe. In fact, the more complex it becomes when using these tools, the LESS proficient the teacher is in his level of understanding of what is truly going on, not to mention his skill in communicating with the student!

As it pertains to golf instructional technology you will find three basic types, and if you’ve taken a lesson lately, you have probably used technology like this….

  • 3-D Motion analysis systems like GEARS gives us the ability to measure and understand everything that happens to your body and club in real-time
  • Launch monitors like Trackman show the interaction between the club and the ball during the impact interval
  • Digital video analysis systems like V1 allow the swing to be viewed at different speeds and compared to your other swing files or even Tour Players

In my opinion, the key to golf instruction at the highest (technological) levels is the ability to combine these systems into a useful conglomeration that defines the student’s problem. From there, the teacher is left to explain the data output in a way (using the proper learning style) that ANY level of golfer can understand.

But that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of the INSTRUCTOR, not the student. The most successful teachers in the world give the player in front of them exactly what they need in order to improve and nothing more and nothing less. It’s a learned art and skill, one that takes thousands and thousands of lessons to accomplish proficiently.

Therefore if your instructor possesses high tech instructional tools make sure that their communicational skill are as impressive as their technology if not, find someone else or you’ll find yourself in mechanical purgatory!

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50 Second Fix: Course management

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Want to fix your tee shots?… Stop falling into old habits, and start standing on the correct side of the tee box!

 

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