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Q&A: Advice For Beginners From Mike Wydra

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As a beginning golfer that is addicted beyond obsession with this wonderful sport, the search for nuggets of knowledge and insight into how to become a better player has been a passion of mine.

I was extremely fortunate that early in my struggles, I became a student of Coach Mike Wydra, UCSD head golf coach and one of a select few inductees to the Golf Coach Association Hall of Fame.

I recently sat down with him to pick his prodigious golf brain on just HOW a beginning golfer should approach learning the game, something I feel that has been somewhat neglected in existing literature.

Neil Crutchfield: First thing I wanted to ask you, what should beginning golfers be most aware of?

Mike Wydra: Golf is a technique-oriented game and people who have good hand-eye coordination don’t always excel at it. Probably the worst student I ever had was an Olympic decathlete who was a fantastic athlete but who wasn’t a good listener. He wanted to do what he felt was correct and he wasn’t interested in the technique — he thought he could conquer it like he’d conquered everything else, and so he became really quite a bad player as a result. So once you understand that there is a very specific technique, that there is something that you need to do and you need to learn it and you’re enamored with that, that’s a big deal.

NC: It sounds like you have to be really open to being wrong for a long time before you get it right.

MW: It’s a very frustrating sport — if you can’t take a little failure, golf’s not for you. I think that’s why you see so many people in the game who are of high character. They’ve gone through that. They understand that they have to persevere and you’ll come out the other side a better golfer and maybe even a better person because of it.

NC: Along these lines, what mindset should a beginning gofer adopt when striking out to learn the game? What kind of expectations?

MW: I think they key to that is where you are in your life. Your age, your body size and type, your flexibility, your coordination those kinds of things. How quick, fast and strong are you? If your talent set is limited there’s certainly lots of things you can still do to be very good at it, you shouldn’t sell yourself short. It depends upon more than anything else on your goals, what you want to do, and how often you’re willing to practice to get it done.

Your expectations — I’m borrowing this from Hogan’s book — that anyone of average body type, size and intelligence and who goes about it seriously I think should have no problem breaking 80 within a relatively short time. I would say between a year and two is very reasonable.

Mike Wydra Advice

NC: What are common pitfalls that most beginning golfers encounter?

MW: Adults when they take the game up and they don’t want to embarrass themselves on the first tee. What happens to them then is that they get good enough at their long game quickly enough so that they could play if they had a short game, but actually they have just waited to embarrass themselves until they get to the green! It’s almost more frustrating to be right there and you can’t close the deal. So, all aspects of your game need to rise simultaneously.

NC: So you think there should be about a 50/50 split in practice between irons/woods and short game?

MW: I would say that the better you get the more time you spend within 50 yards of the green and certainly if you’re interested in scoring that’s a big, big part of what you need to do. You should get 50 yards away and say, “Oh boy, now I’m going to show everybody.” And most people get close to the green and say, “Oh no I hope I don’t mess it up.”

NC: Please don’t skull it!

MW: Exactly! So what I tell most people is that when you’re at the range you should hit half of your balls with your most lofted wedge and your driver and then the other half of the balls you should hit with all of your other clubs combined. And putting is another thing unto itself. The driver and the shortest wedge, those are the things you’ll need the most.

NC: At what point in a golfer’s learning process should they begin taking lessons? Getting fitted for a set of clubs?

MW: Well, it depends. Obviously there’s the monetary thing. But if you begin by playing poorly, if you just do what’s natural and you go out there and see how good you are before you get lessons, basically what happens is that you develop bad habits and then when the instructor gets you, the process is both getting the bad stuff out and the good stuff in at the same time which slows things down.

Club fitting — when you first get started you’re going to be very hard on your golf clubs. Your first set of clubs, it’s not that important to have really good clubs. A good piece of advice: It’s better to get a high-quality brand of club that’s used rather than something that’s shiny and new but maybe low quality.

NC: What should a beginning golfer look for in an instructor when looking for lessons?

MW: I think almost universally the best combination is someone who can play and someone who can teach. If you can find an instructor who you’ve checked out their resume and you know that they have played at a high level and they’ve taught at a high level, so you look at do they have successful students who have won tournaments? That’s the best possible combo.

NC: What are the most important principles to developing a solid, repeatable swing?

MW: All of the best players in the world have certain things in common. So if you see a Jim Furyk and you see a Rory McIlroy and you see the two swings and you think “Oh my god nothing could be more different than those two swings!” I would say that if you looked at them from halfway down in the downswing to halfway through the follow-through they look almost exactly the same. So if you look at videos and sequence photos and you see that one person’s doing one thing and that another person’s doing another thing, well then that’s style. But if you see them and everyone’s doing the same thing, that’s fundamental.

NC: What you say your top three to five most important fundamentals are?

MW: Grip, absolutely. There’s an old saying that occasionally you’ll see someone who’s a pretty good player who has a bad grip but you’ll never see someone who has a good grip that isn’t a good player.

Mike Wydra Grip

If I go out to dinner with someone that says they’re a golfer I say “Show me your grip” — I can tell them normally within a shot or two what their index is just by looking at it. They always seem shocked by that but really it tells a lot about what is going on –- nearly everybody puts their hands on the club either poorly or improperly and they’re making it harder for themselves.

Second –- everyone is a scooping bastard. I mean, if you’ve ever taken a shoveful of dirt and thrown it over your shoulder or flipped a burger on a grill your hand-eye coordination is telling you that ball that you just topped you need to get under the next one better — and that’s exactly the opposite of what you need to do.

And that speaks to the flat left wrist. If you’re going to be ahead of it the only way that you can square the club up with a good grip is to change your wrist as you go through –- to supinate your wrist. If we went to Torrey Pines today and we saw high-speed photos of everyone hitting the ball off the first tee, we might not see a perfect one all day. But if you went to the final round of a PGA Tour event and took high-speed photos you wouldn’t see one all day long that wasn’t absolutely perfect.

NC: How can beginning golfers learn how to learn in between lessons when our coach isn’t around?

MW: Basically, you have to be a good observer. The tendency is to have an emotional reaction to every shot you hit. You cannot be mad, you cannot be sad, you cannot be glad about anything. But to first say, “What did the club do the ball to make the ball do that?” and then to understand the physics of impact and secondly say, “What did my body do to make the club do what it just did?” If you just jump from the shot right back to your swing it can be very confusing to the beginning player. So you have to really stop and say, “Woah, what just happened there? I sliced it that much, the club was that open? OK now, what could I have done that could have made the club be that open?”

So be a good observer, understand the physics of impact and then once you know the cause and effect relationships you can make big, very valid adjustments quickly and easily.

NC: What parting advice would you like to give to my fellow newbie golfers?

MW: A little knowledge is dangerous. You should try to learn everything you can about the game, really become a student of the game so you’ll enjoy every practice session you have, you’ll get better every time you go out, and you’ll continue to learn and continue to improve really for your entire life. That’s the thing -– if you don’t know why you hit a bad shot, you’ll continue to hit the bad shots. So if you’re not interested in knowing as much as you can about the game, we’ll just have another beer, buy the newest driver that’s out there…

NC: Flirt with the cart girl…

MW: That whole kinda thing. A lot of people say, “Ahh I’m just out for the exercise.” What a load of bull that is. Everybody would give almost anything to get better but they’re afraid to take their ego and put it on the backburner. So if you really want to approach the game properly get some quality instruction and enjoy the process of getting better, and you’ll be a golfer for life.

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Neil Crutchfield picked up the sport of golf at the tender age of 34 in 2012 and has been completely infatuated ever since, much to the chagrin of his wife and bank account. Currently, he is a 11 and working hard to get down to being a single-digit handicapper, with the ultimate goal of being scratch.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Nimrod

    Jul 25, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Man I wish I could’ve been breaking 80 after a year and a half

  2. marc james

    Jul 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Awesome read. He gives lessons at the range that’s only 5 minutes away from me! Small world. I’ve witnessed him giving lessons to junior players and has a very calm vibe about him. Very nice guy from what I observed.

    • Neil

      Jul 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      I’m there pretty much every day – and yeah he’s a cool dude. If you take lessons tell him you saw this article. 🙂

  3. naflack

    Jul 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    whats the best way to get your wife to play good golf?

    always leave room for optimism by putting it off another year.

  4. Austin

    Jul 20, 2013 at 6:59 am

    would be interested in hearing/seeing his explanation for a proper grip. thanks.

    • yo!

      Jul 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      well, you have the vardon, interlocking, baseball, furyk grip, and they can be strong, weak or neutral. everything else is “bad”. oh, and if you’re not jim furyk, the furyk grip is bad. 🙂

    • Neil

      Jul 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Near as I can tell it’s pretty much what Hogan espouses in his book, if you have a copy handy.

  5. J

    Jul 19, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Way to represent SD

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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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Golf 101: Why do I chunk it?

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Whether you are a beginner, 10 handicaps, or Rory McIlroy, no one player is immune to the dreaded chunk. How many times have you hit a great drive, breathing down the flag from your favorite yardage and laid the holy sod over one? It’s awful and can be a total rally killer.

So what causes it? It could be several things, for some players, it could be a steep angle of attack, others, early extension and an early bottoming out and sometimes you’ve just had too many Coors Lights and the ground was closer than your eyes told you…been there.

This is Golf 101—let’s make it real simple and find one or two ways that a new golfer can self diagnose and treat themselves on the fly.

THE MAIN CAUSE

With beginners I have noticed there are two main things that cause the dreaded chunk:

  1. Players stand too close to the ball and have no way to get outta the way on the way down. This also really helps to hit Chunk’s skinny cousin: Skull.
  2. No rotation in any form causing a steep angle of attack. You’ve seen this, arms go back, the body stays static, the club comes back down and sticks a foot in the ground.

SO HOW DO I FIX MYSELF?

Without doing all-out brain surgery, here are two simple things you can do on the course (or the range) to get that strike behind the ball and not behind your trail foot.

This is what I was taught when I was a kid and it worked for years.

  1. Make baseball swings: Put the club up and in front of your body and make horizontal swings paying close attention to accelerating on the way through. After a few start to bend at the hips down and down until you are in the address position. This not only gives your body the sensation of turning but reorientates you to exactly where the bottom of your arc is.
  2. Drive a nail into the back of the ball: This was a cure-all for me. Whether I had the shanks, chunks, skulls, etc, focusing on putting the clubhead into the back of that nail seemed to give me a mental picture that just worked. When you are hammering a nail into a wall. you focus on the back of that nail and for the most part, hit it flush 9 outta 10 times. Not sure if its a Jedi mind trick or a real thing, but it has gotten me outta more pickles than I care to admit.

As you get better, the reason for the chunk may change, but regardless of my skill level, these two drills got me out of it faster than anything all while helping encourage better fundamentals. Nothing wrong with that.

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