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3 keys that took me from a 14-handicap to a pro

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Back in January 2003, I was a 27-year old 14-handicapper who had only broken 80 once on a normal length golf course, a 78 at the Walker Course at Clemson University. At the time, breaking 90 was sort of my barometer for playing well.

As luck would have it, right after I moved out to California to embark on my golf journey I was taken under the wing of a local Pro named Dan Shauger. By the end of March, Dan helped me add 63 yards to my longest drive and shoot my first 18-hole round of golf under par.

Since then, I’ve posted multiple tournament rounds in the 60s and made numerous cuts in professional golf events. My lowest score in a casual 18-hole round of golf is now a 64 (8-under) at GolfPark Otelfingen in Switzerland, where I now reside.

Obviously, a lot of people were curious about what I did to make such a dramatic improvement. As I look back in hindsight, here are what I consider to be the three things that had the greatest influence on improving my game and lowering my scores.

1.  Less Clubface Rotation

As I talked about in my article, “The 6 Actions of the Wrists & Forearms”, it’s very commonly taught to pronate and supinate your wrists and forearms in the swing.

In the beginning of my golf journey I was self-coaching and was doing exactly that — rolling my wrists and forearms open in the back swing and then rolling them back to square and then over to closed as I swung through the ball. I remember thinking one day on the range at Lost Canyons in California that it would probably be easier to hit straighter if I didn’t roll like what I was seeing in photos of the golf books I was reading, but I figured if some of the best players in the world were doing it, then maybe I should try it too.

Interestingly, once I met Dan, he took a lot of that clubface rotation out of my swing and, wouldn’t you know it, I started hitting much straighter.  All those disastrous doubles and triples that I used to have that ruined my scores started turning in to pars and bogeys and my handicap started to really drop.

If you are struggling with hitting the ball with any kind of predictable shot shape and don’t want as high maintenance of a swing, I would definitely look in to minimizing the amount of wrist rolling you are doing through the hitting zone.

It was by far the biggest thing that helped improve my precision and accuracy.

2.  A More Steady Head

Back when I was a player who shot in the 80s and 90s, I had quite a bit of lateral head movement during my swing. I suppose that was born out of some tip I had heard about getting my front shoulder turned back over my rear foot in the back swing. My head drifted away from the target and then laterally back towards it.

Although there is the added benefit of the club path deviating less from the target line as you are coming through the ball with this top-half type of lateral move through the ball, it does create a complication in that the bottom of your swing arc is constantly changing.

This isn’t so bad if you’re sweeping the ball, but it can be more of a problem if you take a divot — in particular for me on uphill shots when I didn’t get my body weight back up the hill. Invariably, I would have a number of score-killing fat shots during my rounds.

Once Dan had me minimize the amount of head movement I was making during my swing, my ball striking consistency really improved because the low point in my swing wasn’t moving around so much.

I should clarify that I’m not advocating for your head to be perfectly still or saying that you still can’t hit good shots with some head movement, however, I would consider looking in to minimizing dramatic vertical and horizontal head movement until after the ball is struck if you are struggling with your ball striking.

For me, it helped cut down on my fat shots and translated into hitting closer to the center of the club face much more often, which of course had numerous subsequent benefits like more average distance, better distance control, etc.

3.  Less Tension

Aside from minimizing my club face rotation and cutting down on my head movement, the thing that really rounded out my improvements was getting rid of excessive tension.

The difference between a well-struck shot on target and one that gives up distance and goes off line isn’t much. Introducing tension in to your swing can really complicate getting the club consistently and solidly back on the ball.

You might also equate tension to a rusty door hinge. It takes a lot more energy to close a door with rusty hinges than it does one that’s well lubricated. Plus, the one that’s oily will move faster and with less effort.

I think this is a little easier said than done, especially for us guys, because it requires a bit of ego management to not want to be manly and hit every club as far as humanly possible.  However, the self control was an important discipline for me to get better at managing.

The great Canadian player George Knudson was a strong advocate of never swinging beyond a point of sacrificing balance. Harry Hilary Von Frankenberg, who has shot in the 50s three times in competition, stressed that a golfer should be relaxed and graceful and cannot ever be too boneless or too loose nor too muscleless. Mike Austin, the man that hit the 515-yard drive in the U.S. National Senior Open, spoke of supple quickness, which I think is a good way of describing it because swinging without tension doesn’t necessarily mean swinging slow. You can still swing fast…just be soft and supple.

One of my favorite tension-relieving drills is to hit a bucket of balls while blowing a subtle amount of air through my nose or mouth while hitting each ball. If there’s a big disruption to the flow of air during the swing, I’ll know I had some tension in my swing. Sometimes while I’m doing this I’ll also focus on keeping my face relaxed and not gritting my teeth while I swing…or I’ll imagine myself swinging with the grace and balance of Ernie Els or Fred Couples. By the end of the bucket, my shots are usually much better.

Obviously, individual keys will differ from person to person. However, as a generalization, if you are looking to lower your handicap I would definitely tell you to consider rotating the club less through impact, keeping a relatively relaxed steadiness to your head until the ball is gone, and taking care not to clench up too tight during all of your shots from full swings, to pitches, and chips.

Those are the things that made the most difference to my scores and perhaps you’ll find that they can help you drop some shots from tee to green as well.

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Jaacob Bowden is a Professional Golfer, PGA of America Class A Member, Top 100 Most Popular Teacher, Swing Speed Trainer, the original founder of Swing Man Golf, the co-creator of "Sterling Irons" single length irons, and has caddied on the PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS. Formerly an average-length hitting 14-handicap computer engineer, Jaacob quit his job, took his savings and moved from Kansas to California to pursue a golf career at age 27. He has since won the Pinnacle Distance Challenge with a televised 381-yard drive, won multiple qualifiers for the World Long Drive Championships including a 421-yard grid record drive, made cuts in numerous tournaments around the world with rounds in the 60s and 70s, and finished fifth at the Speed Golf World Championships at Bandon Dunes. Jaacob also holds the championship record for golf score with a 72 in 55 minutes and 42 seconds using only 6 clubs. The Swing Man Golf website has more than 8,000 members and focuses primarily on swing speed training. Typically, Jaacob’s website members and amateur and tour player clients will pick up 12-16 mph of driver swing speed in the first 30 days of basic speed training. You can learn more about Jaacob, Swing Man Golf, and Sterling Irons here: Websites – JaacobBowden.com & SwingManGolf.com & SterlingIrons.com; Twitter - @JaacobBowden & @SwingManGolf & @SterlingIrons; Facebook – Facebook.com/JaacobBowdenGolf & Facebook.com/SwingManGolf & <Facebook.com/SterlingIronsGolf; Instagram - Instagram.com/JaacobBowden YouTube – YouTube.com/SwingManGolf – More than 2.8 million video views

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Vernon

    Sep 23, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Hi…really enjoyed the article…will make use of all 3 tips…but can u offer advice re chipping..when I practice it’s really good but once in the course it’s like I’ve never held a club…my hands go numb and I literally can make a swing…hit it fat or thin…can’t even use a 7 iron or a hybrid to chip with its that bad…paralyses in my hands at the impact point

  2. Kirk

    Jul 23, 2015 at 12:35 am

    Hey Jaacob. Really liked the breathing thing on your article. I find myself breathing like a sniper, and holding my breath for the swing. You’re saying to breath in on the take away, and out on the swinging through?

    Also, I started golf recently when I was just 21 years old, and am about a 15 handicapper. I too would like to make golf a lifestyle and be great at it like you. I have confidence that I can do it, but I’m worried about how I can afford that lifestyle. Do you have to work a side job to pay for all the tournaments you enter? And do you win any prize money that helps a little bit (or the whole way) to support your lifestyle? I really admire it and want to have that lifestyle, which is why I ask.

  3. Kevin

    Oct 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Jacob, took up golf this year and I’m down to a 12.9 handicap which in delighted with but I would like to get better. I have a mental block where I think of my score continuously throughout a round and it affects my game
    Especially at the end of a round, do you have any advice for me would be muchly appreciated.
    Thanks

  4. Kevin

    Oct 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Jacob, took up golf this year and I’m down to a 12.9 handicap which in delighted with but I would like to get better. I have a mental block where I think of my score continuously throughout a round and it affects my game
    Especially at the end of a round

  5. 121w.at

    Jun 28, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Hey there. Today employing yahoo. That is an exceptionally well crafted post. I most certainly will ensure that you save them plus come back to discover more of one’s helpful tips. Basically posting. I’ll definitely recovery.

  6. Pingback: Will I ever get a lower golf score? | Hacker to Single Figures

  7. nik dallos

    Nov 6, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Jaacob, ive been very frustrated with trying to gain a couple extra yards. From short/long, heavy/light, stiff,x,xx,xxx shafts, different methods of swinging the club, hours of pouring over different swing speed tips etc. Im still stuck around 107-114 mph clubhead speed. I feel I have maxed out my given speed. I feel like tossing in the towel and ending my search for more speed. How much faster can a guy get? Sure 90 to 104 mph is a great improvement, but where can you go from there? Its especially frustrating being a former 5’9″ 230 lb (and no im not fat!) college runningback . You tall wirey guys are so flexible and lanky! Its not fair !

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Jun 29, 2014 at 7:20 am

      Hi Nik,

      Average amateur swing speed is around 93 mph. Typical Tour player is about 113 mph (average range of about 104 to 124). Top long drive guys have averaged in the mid 140s in the final rounds of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships.

      So if you’re willing to work at it, the sky is the limit.

      Have a look at the swing speed training programs at http://www.swingmangolf.com.

      Typically, people pick up 12-16 mph in the first month of training. There’s no reason why that couldn’t be you too!

  8. Liam M

    Jun 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Congrats Jaacob! I’m in the exact same boat as you! I regular shoot 80’s and am off a 14 handicap, with these tips hopefully i’ll have the same success you did! Congratulations on your achievment!

  9. Scott G

    Apr 1, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Great article. I think I’ve gotten #1 and #2 nailed in the past year. To accomplish #1 I strengthened my grip and opened my stance a little bit. Misses are playable instead of being off the planet. #2 I focus on during my practice swings because I know I have a tendency to sway too much, leading to inconsistency.

    I don’t give much thought to #3. Hopefully it will be the final key that takes me from being a 14 handicap to something much better.

  10. Pluto66

    Mar 16, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Great advise. But I find tension to be the hardest. A another tip I’ve tried is to hold a piece of Pringles chips or similar between your teeth while hitting balls. Try not to crush it! Any tension and you will fail not to do so.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 17, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Thanks, Pluto66.

      You’ve also got a great suggestion for helping with tension…especially for those of us that like Pringles!

  11. Socorr4

    Mar 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

    My problem seems to be tension since I have a quiet head and resonably consistent hand position. I tried hitting balls yesterday while consciously expiring air through my mouth. It requires some discipline. We’re conditioned to hit between breaths after exhaling, and I’m not sure I did the exercise correctly.

    It did help my control by allowing me to hit the ball more consistently on the sweet spot. The range balls at my club have limited flight due to lack of space, which make it difficult to assess distance.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      Glad to hear it helped you hit more consistently. You’re right, it can take a little bit of discipline.

      I find that sometimes when first trying it, my shots aren’t quite as good…but after a few shots (anywhere from 5-20 balls for me) my body adjusts and I start hitting better. Once I have the feeling of swinging with less tension, then I don’t worry about the breathing any more.

      • Dre

        Jul 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm

        For this drill, are you exhaling through back swing and down swing? Or only on the down swing?

        Thanks,

  12. Jeff G

    Mar 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Jaacob, Great advice. I subscribed to your website and had some great success improving swing speed until back issues derailed my game. What would you consider to be the maximum allowable head movement for those of us battling flexibility issues? If I try and minimize head motion, I cannot achieve a full turn. If I allow a few inches lateral motion (driver) and a couple on full irons I seem to get normal distance, but there are consistency issues.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 12, 2013 at 5:48 am

      Hi Jeff, thanks.

      Hmmm, I think maximum allowable head movement will differ from person to person. There are a number of factors at play.

      As one example, some people rely quite a bit on their vision as well as their inner ear for balance. You can test this by timing how long you can balance on one foot with your eyes open versus eyes closed.

      If you’re someone like me who uses vision quite a bit for balance, having so much head movement that at the top of your back swing the ball goes out of site of one of your eyes, it can make it more difficult to swing back down in balance and strike the ball cleanly.

      Conversely, all else being equal, someone that doesn’t use their eyes as much to balance could get away with more head movement.

      Ideally it would be nice to work on your flexibility. But if you don’t plan on doing that, then I would just say to try to find the middle point between allowing enough head movement that lets you turn for more power but not so much that it has a major disruption on your ball striking consistency. There will likely be a tip-off point where you really start losing control, so it will just take a little bit of trial and error at the range to find your personal threshold.

  13. Rey Omar

    Mar 11, 2013 at 5:07 am

    Hey mate, how did you minimize the head movement in your swing? It’s something that I’m really struggling with at the moment.

    Great article.

    Cheers.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 11, 2013 at 6:53 am

      Hi Rey, there’s quite a few ways to do it. Here are a few.

      Originally, I would just use a video camera. I’d record a couple of swings and identify where in the swing I was moving it, take a few more swings without the camera to work on eliminating or mitigating it, and then check again on camera.

      I’ve also closed one eye and used the bridge of my nose as a reference point to something on the ground and made swings while paying attention to not letting my nose move from that reference point.

      If you’ve got a buddy around, you can have them stand in front of you and hold the butt end of a club up next to your ear. Then just try to swing without bumping your head on the grip.

      I’ve never used it and it would cost some money…but similarly I think the Benderstik training aid would accomplish the same thing as having someone hold a club up next to your head.

  14. John Boisvenue

    Mar 4, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Great advice. I tend to over swing with the driver, and the three keys should benefit my swing. Enjoyed your blog.

  15. Roch

    Mar 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Bonjour Jaacob,
    The first time I saw your swing was In Mike Austin DVD. Then I went to your web site and you refer to Count Yogi(Harry Frankenberg) about the width of the stance. Then I bought the simple set system from Count Yogi.
    I’m still impress from that man and wonder why is not know better. However I think most teacher are to complicate and Count Yogi a little to simple. This is one reason why I love you post and web site.
    Also I like the fact that you have an open mind and generous to gave credit to others. For years I wonder about club rotation. Count Yogi and you are on the same page with this and my game is better since I use this method. If you have study Harry Frankenberg method can you tell us the simmilarity between you and him.
    Thank you for you excelent work.
    Merci
    Roch

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 5, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Bonjour Roch, merci pour le commentaire.

      I’m glad my work has been helpful for you. Yes, I do try to keep an open mind…as well as to come from a place of integrity and humility. You can see a little bit of that reflected in my word choice. For example, I try to stay away from words like “correct” and “proper” in any of my teaching.

      I also agree with you that some teachers unnecessarily over complicate the game, although I do believe there is value and a place for analysis and in-depth study. It just depends on the situation and the person involved. Good teachers can do both when needed.

      As I understand, Count Yogi was banned by the US PGA from tournaments for racial reasons…and because his teachings went against what the US PGA was teaching at the time. Were he allowed to compete, I think it’s feasible he could have won many US PGA sanctioned tournaments and been much more mainstream.

      Similarly I think Moe Norman would have won many US PGA tournaments as well had he not been ostracized for being so eccentric.

      And although I don’t think he would’ve won lots of tournaments due to his poor putting, it’s also feasible that Mike Austin would be more popular too. His swing method is a bit difficult to learn, but it is also the most powerful one I’ve ever experimented with.

      Yes, the Yogi system is simple. But similar to how a great zen master would teach in short phrases, parables, etc…I find there’s also a wonderful underlying wisdom to it. For example, a phrase that you might not give much thought to like “easy game, nothing to it” could indicate his mind set and the law of attraction at work in his game.

      Sometimes when I listen to him or read his material I’ll pause for a moment on seemingly trivial things to ponder deeper meaning (same with Moe Norman, Mike Austin, and others).

      Personally, I’m sure there’s a lot more I can and will learn about the Yogi system, but I do have some experience. I’ve read George Peper’s chapter about him in “The Secret of Golf” many times, I have his 3 books, I’ve watched numerous videos of him, found things around the internet, and I’ve met with Timothy Nicholls (whose chipping was excellent…I’ve only seen one other pro or amateur chip that well, a Paul Runyan advocate) at the range once.

      With Yogi, there’s no focus on manipulating the club face, shifting your weight, or technical stuff like that. You just follow the same routine every time with all shots…and focus on nothing more than being smooth and graceful.

      Over time you can become super consistent because you aren’t making changes to your swing, thought process, routine, etc. The swing can be handled more by the subconscious and thus make it easier to put your mind’s eye on the target. Your myelin can become more insulated from the repeated use of the same neuromuscular pathways and signal transmissions get faster. You can be more in balance and not over swing from the focus on being boneless.

      I could go on…but the short of it is that I think overall it’s a good system for playing golf and Count Yogi is one of numerous people (Dan Shauger – my first teacher and who introduced me to Mike Austin, Geoff Mangum – most knowledgeable putting person I’ve ever come across, Moe Norman – overall game, Dave Pelz – overall research and short game, George Knudson – overall game, Paul Runyan – short game, Tom Wishon – equipment, Cynthia Shapiro – mental coach, Roberto Moretti – practice and skill acquisition, and Fredrik Tuxen – Trackman, to name a few) who have very significantly and positively influenced my game.

      In fact the 3 keys that I mentioned above in the article would fit right in with the Yogi method (as well as the Austin swing).

      Anyway, hope that helps a bit…

      • Roch

        Mar 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        Thanks Jaacob,
        It is clear for me now that not turning the clubface will work better for me.
        I’d like to ask you a question about motion. In the mid 80’s I bought the book swing the club head from Ernest Jones. The day that I finished read that book I shoot 77. I often pratice swinging a weight attach to a rope.
        Bobby Jones,Jim flick and some others refer to him. Mike Austin said swing the clubhead but showed us how to throught the clubhead from the top. Count Yogi in his book said don’t through the clubhead and tell us how to control the clubhead mentaly at 100%.
        Can you tell us what’s your thought on clubhead motion.
        Thanks again.
        Roch

        • Roch

          Mar 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

          Count Yogi wrote don’t swing the clubhead not throw the clubhead.
          My mistake.
          Roch

          • Jaacob Bowden

            Mar 7, 2013 at 7:38 am

            Hmmm, that could be a long answer to go in to all the possibilities! :-p

            But briefly with Austin and Yogi in particular, I find the Austin motion more powerful but more difficult to learn and control. To me it’s a bit tricky to throw from the top and then allow the club to release freely through the hitting area in a tension-free manner. “Throw and let it go” as one could say.

            For regular golf I also find it hard to keep my concentration on my target while also focusing on the throw from the top…plus, my club face awareness isn’t as good.

            However, for long drive I think it’s a great option because it’s more powerful and you have 6 penalty-free chances to get a ball in play versus only 1 in normal golf. That being said, I have still played great golf with the pure Austin motion.

            With Yogi there’s not as much power since you aren’t leveraging your hands as much, but I think it’s easier to learn, to repeat, to be consistent, and to use for regular golf. The simplicity of it can allow one to more easily control the club mentally and remain target-oriented.

            Personally, I use a bit of a hybrid. I wanted to be have the ease, club awareness, and mental control of the Yogi swing but also have the option to throw with my hands and leverage them more when necessary like in the Austin swing. Since I compete in speed golf as well (finished 5th in 2012 World Championships…gonna be aired on CBS next month on the Saturday of the Masters!), I also needed something that I could just step up and hit the ball roughly where I wanted without practice swings.

            It took awhile to get that sorted out but I think I have it now.

            So at setup I turn my lead shoulder clockwise. The shoulder rotation gives me a bit of a strong looking grip from a face-on viewpoint, despite it actually being more neutral. But this allows me to just turn in the back swing, keep soft wrists, and have the club cock naturally (further than it would in the Yogi swing) through inertia without rotating the club face open. I’m also conceptually very aware of where the club is the entire time.

            On the down swing, when I pivot my lower spine towards the target similar to Austin it brings the club back through the ball with very little club face rotation…but with more natural lag than Yogi.

            With the lack of club face rotation in the back swing and down swing, I can also throw from the top like Austin in a case where I need extra power.

            My swing ends up being a bit low and laid-off in the back swing…and more homegrown and less pretty looking in general, but the effectiveness is much better for me.

            Hopefully that makes a bit of sense. It’s a bit tough to explain without pictures and video…or being in person to demonstrate.

  16. Anthony

    Mar 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Nice post Jaccob and congratulations on your progression as a golfer, very good.
    Excellent points, not only does keeping the clubface more square in the takeaway reduce the clubface opening and closing so much, combined with a left arm close to the body (not outside the line) you get the shaft going back on or just above the plane (wrists can hingle vertically when left arm is in the correct position) makes golf so much easier. Points 2 & 3 are important aswell.
    I never really got this stuff right, but I’m getting there now.
    I Had the correct backswinig going for a round backin December and the result was a -7 65… & like you said, you have to hit the irons close to do this.
    With an average swing you can shoot a few under par – with good putting, but to shoot in the mid 60’s you need good putting and a good swing to hit those irons close.
    Cheers,
    Anthony

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 4, 2013 at 6:16 am

      Thanks Anthony…and congratulations on your remarkable 65 (-7).

      Indeed shooting mid-60s and even lower is a whole new level than just a couple under par. Rich Hunt has some interesting observations that I would agree with as a player about what needs to happen to do this -> http://www.golfwrx.com/63409/what-does-it-take-for-the-best-to-go-low/.

      Basically, you have to drive it well enough to give yourself chances to get at the flag as often as possible. Ideally it’s best to be in the fairway but you’ve got to avoid getting behind trees, going in to hazards or OB, etc. You need a lot of birdies so you need a lot of chances. First priority is just getting the ball in play.

      Then once you’re in position off the tee you need to be striking it well enough to get close enough to the hole to have a putt that you can reasonably make. It’s nice when a long putt goes in but it’s not realistic to rely on making a lot of long ones.

      My 64 was from 8 birdies and 0 bogeys. I drove it as well as I ever have that day. My tee shots were long and I got in to no trouble at all. I was at least green high in two shots on all four par-5s and basically had tap-ins or easy putts for those 4 birdies. The other 4 birdies I manages to pick up from hitting those iron shots pretty close as well. The rest of the round wasn’t perfect but basically I didn’t do anything dumb enough to give away any shots on the other holes. I forget exactly but I don’t recall missing any putts inside 10 feet.

      It was a great day!

      • Rex Dietrick

        Jul 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm

        You said “With Yogi there’s not as much power since you aren’t leveraging your hands as much”

        If that’s true, how do you explain Count Yogi’s records:
        Fifty-five holes-in-one; nine of them on par-4 holes, two in succession (187 and 347 yards); one 416-yard hole-in-one

        Played a 550-yard hole in two strokes in Corpus Christi, Texas, driving 453 yards and sinking the next shot with a wedge.

        Great site!

        Thanks!

  17. Dave Pierce

    Mar 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Jaacob I have played with you before in our days at Crystal Highlands in Missouri and at Lost Cayons in California, believe me you are 100% improved and if people that want to learn or are already pretty good golfers should come to you for lessons!

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 4, 2013 at 5:13 am

      Hey Dave, thanks for the kind words. We should play together with my Dad again the next time I’m back in St. Louis. I had already improved a ton by the time you and I played Lost Canyons…but I’ve come even further since then!

      I haven’t gotten to play Crystal Highlands since the railroad bought it all those years ago. That course brings back nice memories from high school. I’m not sure if I ever shot lower than 87 or 88 there. I’d be curious to have a go at it again now that I became a good player and turned pro.

  18. Thomy

    Mar 3, 2013 at 9:43 am

    @ Chris… We are speaking about 18 Holes!
    Send me a text once u r back at Otelfingen, would be glad to see that.

  19. Jaacob Bowden

    Mar 3, 2013 at 8:16 am

    G & Todd, thank you.

  20. Chris

    Feb 27, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I shot 64 at Otelfingen with a set of rentals. Your swing is piss poor in the take away but not too bad at impact. Good luck to you but play some decent courses…Otelfingen is a joke.

    • Jaacob Bowden

      Mar 3, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment.

      Why in your opinion is the take-a-way piss poor? And are you referring to a particular swing? I’m always open to updating my view point, but I need a solid argument to do it. 😉

      Also, for your information, I’ve played some very good courses…Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Bayonet, Bandon Dunes, Emirates Golf Club, Jumeirah Golf Estates, and St. Andrews to name a few.

      If you shot 64 with a set of rentals at the same Otelfingen that I played, then I take my hat off to you.

      First of all, shooting under par with clubs that you aren’t used to would be extremely difficult for anyone. Most birdies come from hitting the ball close to the flag, so it would be very hard to do until you know how far the clubs go and have some experience with them.

      Secondly, Otelfingen isn’t that long at 6865 yards (6277 meters) from the back tees. But the course rating is 73.3 and slope is 133…with fairways as narrow as a US Open setup. When the rough is up and the wind blows, it is more challenging than numerous Tour level courses that I’ve played. I don’t like the crowds, but facility-wise I find it a nice place to practice.

      • Rufiolegacy

        Mar 16, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        This, is the response of a gentleman. Good on you Jaacob, fantastic read. Thanks for the tips!

  21. Todd

    Feb 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Solid stuff! Nice work.

  22. G

    Feb 27, 2013 at 2:38 am

    Those are all amazing advices. And well done to you!

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Instruction

Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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