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Practice small for big results

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When you think of working on your technique, most people think big changes in body movement. Changing how your body pivots, how your hips move, the top of your backswing position etc., are all typical things which golfers work on. I would call these things “macro techniques,” as they involve big-scale changes.

Macro techniques are usually difficult to do, as they often require complete re-training of the big-body movement patterns you have built up over the years (sometimes referred to as gross motor patterns). Not a lot of people look at the micro techniques of golf though – the small variations which can make a massive difference, such as where you strike the ball on the face, club face position at impact, contact point with the ground, etc.

An example of this is a player who makes very similar looking movement on video camera (macro technique) yet the club head comes through impact a couple of centimeters too far away from the body and they shank it (micro technique).

Most people think that they have to change the macro techniques to see an improvement in the micro techniques, but this is not always true. Often times, we see big improvements in the macro technique, yet we still shank it because we hit the hosel (through not controlling our micro techniques). On the flip side of this, I have seen some great positive changes in macro technique as a result of focusing on the smaller areas of technique, such as strike awareness.

Practice drills for micro technique

Below I have three of my favorite drills for improving your micro technique game. You can build a high-quality game from these drills alone.

  • Spray paint a line on the grass perpendicular to your target line (as long as you are allowed). Place golf balls on the line, and proceed to hit the balls, making sure to take a divot. Look at the divot after each shot – the aim is to try and strike ball first, then make a divot, by first contacting the ground on the white line, or slightly forward of it (target side). Having the line there is great feedback for you to note improvement.
  • Take a dry erase market pen and draw a dot on the back of the golf ball (where your club face will contact the ball). Proceed to hit the ball from a clean lie, and you will be left with a mark on the club face. The aim is obviously to work out how to hit the middle of the sweetspot, but this drill is massive for awareness and feedback. You may spot some things you didn’t realize before, and you will build up a great feel for controlling the club head
  • Try to control the shape of the ball by focusing on getting the club face into a different position at impact. Place a sleeve of balls on the ground in a way which you could hit the middle ball in the box. Work on swinging back and down (don’t hit the balls) and get a sense for how the club could hit the box toe first (closed face/more left) or heel first (open/more right). Then try to hit different shapes by producing this feeling at impact with a real ball. The ball flight is your feedback here (combine it with the sweetspot drill for maximum effect)

How to practice these things

The great news is you don’t have to know how to do these things, it is enough just to know that you do them. You are equipped with an amazing computer in your head, and given the right goals and awareness, it is capable of teaching itself. Just make sure you get quality feedback by using the divot, the mark on the ball or the ball flight, etc. Allow your body to figure out the most efficient way for you to produce the desired motion, and practice variants of the drills. For example try to hit the divot from different ball positions in your stance, or practice intentionally hitting the heel and toe of the club. See my last article on experimentation for more information http://www.golfwrx.com/68121/boost-your-practice-regime-with-experimentation/  

Balance

As with most things in life, balance is key. If all you did was focus on improving the bigger parts of your technique, you might have a good overall movement, but you may lack the skills which turn a player from good to great. Likewise, if you simply focused on the smaller things, you may develop great skills and get close to achieving your potential with your swing, but likely your potential will be limited by the poor macro movements you possess.

So in your practice regime, make sure you strike a balance between working on the big things in your movement, and the small things which will make a real difference to how you hit it. They tend to feed into each other, but make sure you don’t ignore the small techniques. Often, when there is a problem in your play, it is not that your macro technique has changed much, but the small techniques just need a little tweaking to get you back on path. After all, wouldn’t it be easier just to tweak a small thing than to produce a radical swing overhaul every time things went a little awry?

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Adam is a golf coach and author of the bestselling book, "The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers." He currently teaches at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California. Adam has spent many years researching motor learning theory, technique, psychology and skill acquisition. He aims to combine this knowledge he has acquired in order to improve the way golf is learned and potential is achieved. Adam's website is www.adamyounggolf.com Visit his website www.adamyounggolf.com for more information on how to take your game to the next level with the latest research.

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Instruction

Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Instruction

Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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