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Five Steps to Effective Practice

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Matt Newby is a PGA Member and Certified Personal Coach at GolfTEC in Irvine, Calif.  He has more than 10 years of experience as a teacher and other facets of the golf business. In the past he was mentored by three PGA Master Professionals and has worked with the instructors of Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington, Jerry Kelly and Inbee Park.

1) Know specifically what/why you are practicing. 

This first step in proper practice sounds simple but is often overlooked.  Countless times I’ve approached students and range-goers and asked them specifically what they are practicing. Nearly all the responses fall into two categories. The most common response is that the golfer is “just trying to hit the ball well.” Usually this person has no motive or goal related to their practice.  This method may work for some golfers who are trying to blow off steam for an hour, but is ineffective for those seriously trying to improve performance. The other common response I hear is from golfers who I call “tinkerers.” They are always working on something new in their swing, whether it is a tip they saw in the latest magazine or something they heard from a playing partner. Although this category is more effective when executed properly, it often lacks execution. I challenge every reader of this article to assess their own practice and determine if they fall into either category.

Effective practice involves understanding what and why you are practicing. Golfers who are “just trying to hit the ball well” often lack specific goals for practice. Without a goal or motive for our practice the only proficiency we gain is at hitting golf balls on the range. Often this does not transfer to the golf course and is why many golfers have such dissonance in their performance on the range compared to their performance on the golf course. I am also a strong believer that you must understand why you are practicing. Students who understand why they are practicing often develop a better understanding of the process of improvement as opposed to the mentality that one tip will make them the next major champion. It also gives golfers an opportunity to gauge the source of the information received. Although most tips printed in magazines are accurate, they do not always apply to the reader and can actually cause further flaws if not implemented correctly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, advice taken from an untrained playing partner could simply be incorrect information and again can add further flaws to their game. As a PGA Professional I encourage everyone who truly wants to improve to contact their local PGA Professional. A good instructor is trained to determine what and why you should practice.

2) Know how to practice a specific skill. 

How golfers practice is a mindset that needs a complete overhaul. Most golfers have a false sense of learning and the learning process. A question I ask students after every lesson is how they plan on practicing until the next lesson.  I can almost guarantee that the first time I ask this the response involves the words “driving range.” The driving range is a great place to practice for certain things such as shot shaping, distance control and alignment. But attempting to practice other things such as mechanics or specific body movements on the driving range can lead to slower improvement and regression. A great coach once told me that learning to hit a full golf shot is like learning to doing a backflip on a four-foot balance beam. If I were teaching my students to do backflips on balance beams I would have to take a much different approach than how some instructors currently teach golf. In golf, students often hear the information once and then want to try it in a full swing right away. If I were to apply this same method to gymnastics I wouldn’t have any students left due to the injuries they would sustain. My business would most likely be uninsurable as well. To learn how to backflip on a balance beam, you would first start by walking on a piece of tape on the ground, then walking on a one-foot beam, then learning to do a backflip on the ground, then one-foot beam, etc.  Due to the risk of injury in gymnastics, a gymnast cannot progress to the next step until a student has mastered the previous skill. The same risk applies to golf, although the risk in golf involves injuring your swing instead of falling on your head. This process applies especially for making mechanical swing changes. When making a swing change start by doing a drill to promote that change. Then you should progress to swinging in slow motion without a ball. You can speed up over time until you are at full swing speed. One of the nice things about this process is that the driving range isn’t necessary for the first steps. Swinging without the ball and in slow motion can often be done at home.

3) Set MEASURABLE goals for practice. 

Measurable goals are required for any effective practice. This again goes back to the “just trying to hit the ball well” category. If you find yourself in this category, ask yourself what your definition of hitting the ball well is. Without a clear and specific goal, we have no way to determine whether we have succeeded or failed. Measurable goals apply to all types of practice, whether it’s the practice you do at home, on the range or on the course. Goals also must be specific to what you are practicing.  For example, let’s say you are battling a slice.  Your specific definition of hitting it well would probably be “not slicing.” This can then be turned into a measurable goal. First you would start by creating a virtual fairway on the driving range by using two flags or markers (blue flag on left and red on right). This would serve as your measuring device. Now you have to create a goal.  In this example your goal could be to hit less than three out of 10 balls to the right of the red flag. Just by using this simple goal you now have a way to analyze your practice and determine whether or not it was effective. This same system could apply to all your practice even if you were working on mechanics at home. One key that must be stated is that a measuring device must always be created to determine success or failure. In the last example our measurement device was our virtual fairway. Creating an effective measuring device is not always as easy to re-create at home. A video camera is usually a good solution to determine if practice was effective. The video does not lie as much as we would sometimes like it to.

 

4) Create a game plan. 

Now that you have your goals established you need to create a game plan for your practice session. A game plan needs to be specific to the goals for that practice session. Based on my personal experience I feel that the game plan of most amateurs when practicing consists of hitting a bucket with whatever club they feel necessary at the time. Much of the time I also watch amateurs hit the same club at the same flag repeatedly. Hitting balls at the same flag over and over unfortunately does not follow the same rhythm as a round of golf. On the golf course, it is rare that we hit the same shot more than once, so it makes no sense to practice this way. This only leads to the dissonance that most golfers experience between the driving range and the golf course. By creating situations in your practice similar to those you would find on the golf course, the gap in performance between the range and the course will start to dissipate. If your goal is to hit eight out of 10 greens with a wedge, you might hit a driver and possibly a mid-iron before each wedge shot to recreate the rhythm of an actual round of golf. You can also play games with yourself this way to make your practice more enjoyable. For example, if your drive lands outside your virtual fairway, then make yourself hit a mid-iron before you hit your next wedge wedge. If you bomb your drive down the middle, you might go straight to the wedge and try to recreate an on-course birdie opportunity. 

5) Analyze results and compare to goals. 

This is one of the most important and easiest steps, but also the scariest step for most golfers. Analyzing results implies the possibility of failure, but also success. I think most golfers want to believe that any practice is good practice. Unfortunately that is just not true. Golfers need to understand that there can be failure during practice. Because your goals are measurable it makes the actual analysis very easy. Keep a record of how you performed based on your goals. If you were to use the three out of 10 shots in the “don’t slice” game, you would keep a tally on a notepad or scorecard of each set of 10 shots that you hit. Keeping this record will also allow you to analyze your progress over time and revise your goals based on progress. Once you understand why you fail you will be able to practice more effectively in the future.

Matt Newby is a PGA Member and Certified Personal Coach at GolfTEC in Irvine, Calif.  He has more than 10 years of experience as a teacher and other facets of the golf business. In the past he was mentored by three PGA Master Professionals and has worked with the instructors of Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington, Jerry Kelly and Inbee Park.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. rick rappaport

    Feb 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Bravo! What a well written and well thought out article. My practice will change from now on and it sounds like it’s going to be a lot more fun, too.

  2. Jason

    Feb 29, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I’ve have often times recreated golf round scenarios at the end of a bucket when I only have a few balls left. Never have thought about trying to do that with the whole practice although it makes since of why it is a good technique. Going to try to start getting more quality range time in this week and in the months to come so I am looking forward to trying this out next time. Thanks for the article.

  3. Jason Black

    Jan 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Great article. I had my high school golf team read this and write a paper about it.

  4. Pete

    Jan 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Excellent tips! Applying a focused quantitative goal is the way to practice smarter, not harder. Thank you much!

  5. Marvin Brush

    Jan 27, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Good article Matt. Looking forward in see you once I get some pain out of my left hand finger.

    Marv

  6. Mark Carlson

    Jan 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Currently on the DL while rehabbing after elbow surgery, but I will keep this in mind when I pick up the clubs again in a couple of months. Good stuff. Thanks for the post!

  7. Matt Newby

    Jan 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    If anybody has any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at mnewby@golftec.com

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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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