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Do old school teachings have a place in golf’s new school environment?

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Every week, I watch golf telecasts that show the best players in the world playing tough golf courses and hitting shots that challenge their skills. It’s a joy to see what they can do with a golf ball.

Today’s players are so talented and golf analysts aren’t scared to say so. My favorite part of golf telecasts, however, is when former golfers (turned broadcasters) help us understand what is going through golfers’ mind, what could happen with the shot and what technique(s) would work best for them under pressure. Most of us have never been “there” on Sunday, so it’s nice to hear analysis from people who have.

One topic that consistently comes up in the world of instruction is the debate between “old school” versus “new school” teaching methods. The most vocal critic of new school instruction, which is characterized by the use of golf radar systems like FlightScope and Trackman that track the movement of the club and ball, is Brandel Chamblee. Like him or not, he’s not afraid to voice his opinion and that’s why I love to listen to him. You never know who he is going to target, but lately his criticism has been aimed directly at Sean Foley and Tiger Woods.

Everyone is asking why Tiger can win the non-majors, but he can’t seem to break through on the big stage. Chamblee’s answer is that Foley’s new school instruction has forced Tiger into playing “golf swing, not golf,” which compromises his ability to score when he is struggling with his swing.

But it’s not just Tiger. According to Chamblee, the new school methods that Foley and others like him teach produce robotic players who have little imagination. They’re not trying to hit the best shots; they’re trying to “please the machine” and make perfect golf swings.

As a full-time teacher for more than 20 years, I have seen both sides of the argument. I have taught with my eyes, using split-screen video, 3D motion analysis and now with golf radar in every lesson. So which style is better?

I’m here to say that instructors need BOTH styles to be able to teach better than their predecessors. Here’s few examples why:

If you only use your eyes, you CANNOT see everything going on

I’ve heard the debates that argue that I don’t need golf radar to see what’s going on. Heck, I’ve had one of the best teachers in golf tell me that he has the best eye in golf instruction, and doesn’t need anything to help him on the lesson tee. But he and the other instructors who claim to be able to see everything aren’t really seeing everything.

The most important part of the golf swing, impact, takes about 1/10,000 of a second. While teachers who trust their eyes can be right about certain things most of the time, there is no way that they can accurately judge angle of attack, true path, face angle and all the other variables golf radar provides by just looking at ball flight and divots. If an instructor’s eyes can see what’s going on during the 1/10,000 of a second, they should be ninjas, not golf pros.

It’s not about “pleasing the machine” on every shot

One of the inert dangers of using golf radar is the total reliance on the numbers to formulate a good or bad shot in the player’s mind. As we all know, perfection is IMPOSSIBLE, however, reasonable consistency is not. I have always tried to stress to my students (while using golf radar) that it’s not about making the numbers say the same thing every time. It’s about learning how to “feel” the differences between numbers.

If you tend to swing too much from the inside, try to make swings that have an outside-in path. Can you feel the difference? Now that golf radar has defined these feels numerically, you can now figure out how to keep your swing’s path in very tight parameters. It’s not the numbers that define you, but the feels of how you did it. If you can feel the difference between a slightly in-to-out path and a slightly out-to-in path, it seems to me that you would have better control of your swing path.

Feel is not real

As we all know, what we feel is not real in the aspect of how we are swinging the club and our body. Many players have fouled themselves up on the range by thinking they are doing one thing yet swinging in exactly the opposite manner. If you are relying only on your feel, you can run into problems. Homer Kelly said in his book The Golfing Machine, “Let mechanics produce and feel reproduce.” To me, that is the best way to practice.

If you are working on controlling your ball’s curvature, you could just focus on what you feel and what you see the ball doing in mid-air, or you could use golf radar to chart your “face-to-path” ratio. With a centered hit, the smaller the gap between the face direction at impact and the path of the club the straighter the ball will tend to go. Therefore, using “hard data” from golf radar to control the golf ball’s curvature and then feeling HOW you in fact made the ball go straighter will make it easier to reproduce shot shapes on the golf course when it matters. I prefer using golf radar to define feels, not the other way around — it saves time and stops wasted effort.

Focusing on numbers stunts imagination

One of my favorite things to do, now that I have a golf radar machine, is to actually see what my “stock shots” actually do in the way of the numbers. It’s funny, as a player I always had a few types of shots I would play under certain situations, making the ball react mostly in the way I could count on. But was the ball actually doing what I wanted it to do or was I making things too hard?

For example, I hit the ball left to right 95 percent of the time, but sometimes — like into a hard headwind — I would try to hit a hard, low hook to keep the ball under the wind and have it run more. What I found when I hit this type of shot on golf radar was that it indeed did go lower than my stock fade, yet it flew 20 yards on the average SHORTER than my normal shot and ran out about the SAME distance! I always felt it flew a touch shorter and ran out farther, but this in fact was NOT the case. I was making this shot much harder by not hitting my normal shot most of the time.

Short shots from 30-to-100 yards are all about feel from what most of my clients say, yet this new-school technology has help me define the feels of what these shots actually do in the air and how they will react when they hit the ground. I hit these shots and focus on a few things: overall carry distance, launch, spin, spin loft and decent angle. These things help me to determine how to control the ball.

After a few sessions on golf radar, I have a better idea how my knockdown 100-yard wedge will fly versus my stock 100-yard wedge versus my high soft 100-yard wedge. Without golf radar, I would NEVER know how these things would differ.

Final Analysis

So which style is correct? I think the new-school techniques have the potential to help players UNDERSTAND AND FEEL what they are doing and how they can improve their motion; however, you will never convince me that golfers can do it without old school experimental techniques.

My challenge to you is to find a new-school teacher that is well versed in old-school experience, and I bet you will find the person that will get you to the next level.

Thank you, Brandel Chamblee, for alerting us to the fact that “old-school” instructional techniques cannot be lost with our new school technology. Just be patient everyone. It will take time to integrate both.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Rick Altham

    May 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Some of the greatest ball strikers of all time figured out their swing without radar or a camera. They also did it with blades and persimmon woods. You would think with all the new technology the current tour players would be superior ball strikers. However, Hogan, Knudson, Player etc are still considered the gold standard.

  2. Dennis Clark

    May 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I agree Tom; It’s not simply what radar sees but what we have LEARNED from what radar sees. Hence the “new ball flight laws” etc. Good article.

  3. Dave

    Oct 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve never cared for Chamblee, but his method’s do tie him to additional attention by bashing Tiger. He gets mentioned more often because of it and I don’t agree with that approach to success by members of the media. Tiger has made the rest of his competitors look at all aspects of their games in order to improve. The rubber-band effect, or, forcing them to start looking at diet, fitness, sports psychology, and coaching differently, kicked in a few to several years after he came on Tour. Since then it has become harder to consistently dominate out there. Personally, I think Tiger could survive without a coach and win. I also think that since his early childhood he had an influence over his shoulder, his Dad, watching him practice and guiding his direction. It’s familiar for Tiger to have someone, and up until Foley they’ve all been older, father type figures. As technology comes along, naturally it gets integrated and embraced as part of getting better. I’d imagine almost everyone on Tour has a launch monitor by now, if not their coach does. I get the “Playing golf swing” comments as I’ve gotten into the same rut with my own swing and trying to make a perfect backswing, ugh. However, Brandel’s comments have always rubbed me the wrong way given how comparatively lacking his career on Tour actually is. He knows nothing about winning a major, being the best player in the world and all those expectations, dealing with everyone scrutinizing your golf swing and some shaking their head in disapproval. Brandel is just after ratings, job security. Wanna be Johnny Miller.

    • Ninja radar

      May 21, 2014 at 12:10 am

      bottom line is, they should be ninjas, not golf pros!

  4. Carlos Danger

    Sep 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Chamblee’s opinion on how to hit a draw……Aaron Rodgers, he is beyond combative and makes himself look like an uneducated tool. Once Chamblee and Mclain wake up we can then invite them in to the circle of an intelligent golf swing cause and effect conversation. Until now dismiss the rhetoric and know that Chamblee is purely scared to explain the proper way in which to swing a club due to lack of knowledge.

    • Andrew Cooper

      Sep 14, 2013 at 4:31 am

      “…the proper way in which to swing a club..”?! Anyone who thinks there’s a “proper way” really doesn’t understand golf.

    • RG

      May 23, 2014 at 1:29 am

      You can hit a ball properly, but there is no proper way.

  5. Jack

    Sep 11, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Easier to said than done, especially on things that can’t be proved. What’s a talking head to do though.

  6. larrybud

    Sep 9, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Tiger may lack many things, but imagination is not one of them.

  7. David

    Sep 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Seems like a good eyes teacher works well…Remember when Stricker helped Tiger with his putter stance by just watching him and he went on to win WGC.

  8. Ni

    Sep 9, 2013 at 2:56 am

    If I could say what I want to say to Brandel, it would be this:

    “Don’t just blame it all on the instruction! Tiger has just as much to blame for hiring the coach and allowing the coach to be there all the time! A player like Tiger is good enough to know what to do with his own game, so if we see that he allows Foley to hang around all the time, it’s not necessarily the coaching or the coach’s fault that he, the coach, is allowed to hang around and disrupt the student’s game.”

    • DocWillie

      Sep 9, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Tiger hasn’t won, BECAUSE IT IS HARD AS HELL TO WIN A MAJOR!!! In fact, it is hard to win any PGA TOUR event. But he has largely contended through all of these events. Dude has won five times this year alone! If his Sean Foley swing hadn’t been so damn accurate and hit a flagpole in Georgia, Adam Scott may still be waiting for a win. How many people have won more than one major over the last 5 years? How many first-time major winners have there been? I despise Chamblee’s capricious critique of Tiger; he’s supportive when clearly he will win, he’s dismissive when Tiger even slightly struggles. But how many missed cuts does Tiger have? Is Tiger at Q school with his new swing?!? Gosh, whose golf swing does Chamblee like? I would guess he loves his own. (I wonder, is there youtube footage of Chamblee?)

      • Ken Lines

        Nov 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

        I found some of Chamblee’s swing on the internet and it does not have 10% of the athletic components of any PGA or LPGA star. It is a good swing to study for those with shoulder/neck issues. His swing would work well in strong winds and with some hybrid clubs. If he had a real sense he would be teaching recreational golfers. Tiger, Ernie, etc. need excessive game to have any shot at winning a major. Can these players see into the future and know if every change will hold up? No. One simple/tidy golf move is not going to beat the field often. People do age and need to adjust.

        • Martin

          May 19, 2014 at 6:11 pm

          I he spent his time teaching recreational golfers he would make $40k/yr instead of 6 figures.

      • Martin

        May 19, 2014 at 6:13 pm

        His beef with the instruction Tiger gets, is the biggest compliment Tiger can have, he’s Tiger.%4&&% Woods.

        Like it or not, Tiger can’t hit a fairway to save his life when it matters anymore. So the notion that he is trying to swing golf instead of play certainly applies off the tee.

  9. naflack

    Sep 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    i think radar has taught us that what looks on or off plane in many cases in simply not true. i think this in turn will give golfers more freedom to swing the way they swing with less focus on reaching a position for what would now be an arbitrary reason.

  10. Mark in Scotland

    Sep 8, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    John Jacobs (old school) knew a thing or two about teaching the game. He said the purpose of the golf swing was to deliver the club head to the back of the ball perpendicular to the intended line of flight. The method employed is of little consequence so long as it can be repeated.

    Most teachers know all about the various ‘methods’ but which is right for you? They can help you understand all about the importance of grip, stance, posture and alignment. The set up is more than 50% of the golf swing, the rest is load and then release. A 30 year old teacher with all the latest gadgets and up to the minute information still doesn’t and can never know what it’s like to live in a 50 year old body.

    With all the benefits technology has brought to the game, there is a danger of information overload. The game is best kept simple – certainly for the average recreational golfer, which means most golfers. More shots are lost from 100 yards in. How often has it been said – learn to pitch and putt (all about feel) and see your scores tumble!

    As for the professional game – it’s become almost unwatchable. An obsession with distance, a ball that goes too far and is designed to reduce spin – all to pander to television to give us a weekly ‘show’ with winners posting ’20 under’ and collecting obscene prize money on courses set up like dart boards – who do they think they are fooling?

    Good to see Mickleson and Rose triumph on real courses with imaginative golf in this year’s two most important championships. Don’t bother waiting for the integration of methods. So long as the game is played in the air and along the ground no machine will ever combat those vagaries. It’s all about feel – if you don’t actually have it, you’ll never understand it. blame your parents for messing with your DNA.

    • BigBoy

      Sep 9, 2013 at 5:52 am

      well said.

    • Forsbrand

      Sep 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Absolutely spot on, John Jacobs and Peter Alliss on BBC Play Better Golf, GASP! Personally I blame leadbetter 🙂 golfers today don’t appreciate great old school students such as Howard clarke , Paul way you know the guys with great GASP basics and great hands, fast hands, because to play good golf you need a good pair of hands, which I think is massively overlooked these days!

    • t

      Sep 11, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      i don’t get excited for golf as much as i use to. i don’t get excited for new equipment. watching it on tv or in person doesn’t have the same appeal it did 20 years ago. but i do get excited seeing pictures of golfers holding persimmon drivers and watching old utube videos of lee trevino and george knudson. hopefully one day people will understand the stupidity of whats happening in golf and change their thought process. oh, this game is too tough, lets make equipment to hit it further. oh, now its too easy, lets make golf courses longer to accommodate the new equipment. oh, now its too tough again, lets make new equipment to make the ball go even further. so now i can spend $200 on shaft to hit it passed my buddy and then he can spend $300 on a shaft to hit passed me. oh, now i have to pay $120 for a round of golf because the golf course is longer. stupid stupid stupid.

    • big meech

      Sep 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      please don’t take lessons from that 30 year old with gadgets. Just go “find it” on the range with your “natural swing.”

  11. Duane

    Sep 8, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Chamblee is a high priced hater. He keeps his eye on Tiger, and creates critical commentary to make himself relevant. Too bad…he has the talent to be good without it.

  12. Andrew Cooper

    Sep 8, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Is a coach helping a pupil get better or not? Whatever the coaching style, that is the bottom line.

  13. mark

    Sep 8, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Tiger has 105 or more victories than Chamblee really!!!! Lets see do i take a lesson from Tiger or Chamblee.If ee don’t get new info we become announcers

    • nils jonsson

      Sep 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      And how many victories does Sean Foley have (and Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, and David Ledbetter…)?
      Chamblee does not have to have more victories than Tiger etc in order to be able to comment on their golf swings. If that was the case, all golf coaches and commentators would be out of a job……

    • t

      Sep 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      don’t be confused by great golfers and great teachers. 99% of better than average PGA tour players can’t teach. why? because they can just do it. they can just hit the ball. where as, some guys like butch harmon have an incredible eye for detail and understand how to communicate swing instruction to people who have a difficult time hitting the ball.

  14. Bman

    Sep 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    While I think Chamblee is a blow-hard for the most part, and for some reason mainly criticizes Tiger and Foley for this (Justin Rose seems immune from it), too much old or too much new in the way of instruction is not ideal. Like my mom always said, “moderation is the key”.

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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: The easiest-to-learn golf basic

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My golf learning began with this simple fact – if you don’t have a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, it is practically impossible for your body to execute a fundamentally sound golf swing. I’m still a big believer that the golf swing is much easier to execute if you begin with the proper hold on the club.

As you might imagine, I come into contact with hundreds of golfers of all skill levels. And it is very rare to see a good player with a bad hold on the golf club. There are some exceptions, for sure, but they are very few and very far between, and they typically have beat so many balls with their poor grip that they’ve found a way to work around it.

The reality of biophysics is that the body moves only in certain ways – and the particulars of the way you hold the golf club can totally prevent a sound swing motion that allows the club to release properly through the impact zone. The wonderful thing is that anyone can learn how to put a fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, and you can practice it anywhere your hands are not otherwise engaged, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing.

Whether you prefer an overlap, interlock or full-finger (not baseball!) grip on the club, the same fundamentals apply.  Here are the major grip faults I see most often, in the order of the frequency:

Mis-aligned hands

By this I mean that the palms of the two hands are not parallel to each other. Too many golfers have a weak left hand and strong right, or vice versa. The easiest way to learn how to hold the club with your palms aligned properly is to grip a plain wooden ruler or yardstick. It forces the hands to align properly and shows you how that feels. If you grip and re-grip a yardstick several times, then grip a club, you’ll see that the learning curve is almost immediate.

The position of the grip in the upper/left hand

I also observe many golfers who have the butt of the grip too far into the heel pad of the upper hand (the left hand for right-handed players). It’s amazing how much easier it is to release the club through the ball if even 1/4-1/2″ of the butt is beyond the left heel pad. Try this yourself to see what I mean.  Swing the club freely with just your left hand and notice the difference in its release from when you hold it at the end of the grip, versus gripping down even a half inch.

To help you really understand how this works, go to the range and hit shots with your five-iron gripped down a full inch to make the club the same length as your seven-iron. You will probably see an amazing shot shape difference, and likely not see as much distance loss as you would expect.

Too much lower (right) hand on the club

It seems like almost all golfers of 8-10 handicap or higher have the club too far into the palm of the lower hand, because that feels “good” if you are trying to control the path of the clubhead to the ball. But the golf swing is not an effort to hit at the ball – it is a swing of the club. The proper hold on the club has the grip underneath the pad at the base of the fingers. This will likely feel “weak” to you — like you cannot control the club like that. EXACTLY. You should not be trying to control the club with your lower/master hand.

Gripping too tightly

Nearly all golfers hold the club too tightly, which tenses up the forearms and prevents a proper release of the club through impact. In order for the club to move back and through properly, you must feel that the club is controlled by the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. If you engage your thumbs and forefingers in “holding” the club, the result will almost always be a grip that is too tight. Try this for yourself. Hold the club in your upper hand only, and squeeze firmly with just the last three fingers, with the forefinger and thumb off the club entirely. You have good control, but your forearms are not tense. Then begin to squeeze down with your thumb and forefinger and observe the tensing of the entire forearm. This is the way we are made, so the key to preventing tenseness in the arms is to hold the club very lightly with the “pinchers” — the thumbs and forefingers.

So, those are what I believe are the four fundamentals of a good grip. Anyone can learn them in their home or office very quickly. There is no easier way to improve your ball striking consistency and add distance than giving more attention to the way you hold the golf club.

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Clement: Stop ripping off your swing with this drill!

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Not the dreaded headcover under the armpit drill! As if your body is defective and can’t function by itself! Have you seen how incredible the human machine is with all the incredible feats of agility all kinds of athletes are accomplishing? You think your body is so defective (the good Lord is laughing his head off at you) that it needs a headcover tucked under the armpit so you can swing like T-Rex?

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How a towel can fix your golf swing

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This is a classic drill that has been used for decades. However, the world of marketed training aids has grown so much during that time that this simple practice has been virtually forgotten. Because why teach people how to play golf using everyday items when you can create and sell a product that reinforces the same thing? Nevertheless, I am here to give you helpful advice without running to the nearest Edwin Watts or adding something to your Amazon cart.

For the “scoring clubs,” having a solid connection between the arms and body during the swing, especially through impact, is paramount to creating long-lasting consistency. And keeping that connection throughout the swing helps rotate the shoulders more to generate more power to help you hit it farther. So, how does this drill work, and what will your game benefit from it? Well, let’s get into it.

Setup

You can use this for basic chip shots up to complete swings. I use this with every club in my bag, up to a 9 or 8-iron. It’s natural to create incrementally more separation between the arms and body as you progress up the set. So doing this with a high iron or a wood is not recommended.

While you set up to hit a ball, simply tuck the towel underneath both armpits. The length of the towel will determine how tight it will be across your chest but don’t make it so loose that it gets in the way of your vision. After both sides are tucked, make some focused swings, keeping both arms firmly connected to the body during the backswing and follow through. (Note: It’s normal to lose connection on your lead arm during your finishing pose.) When you’re ready, put a ball in the way of those swings and get to work.

Get a Better Shoulder Turn

Many of us struggle to have proper shoulder rotation in our golf swing, especially during long layoffs. Making a swing that is all arms and no shoulders is a surefire way to have less control with wedges and less distance with full swings. Notice how I can get in a similar-looking position in both 60° wedge photos. However, one is weak and uncontrollable, while the other is strong and connected. One allows me to use my larger muscles to create my swing, and one doesn’t. The follow-through is another critical point where having a good connection, as well as solid shoulder rotation, is a must. This drill is great for those who tend to have a “chicken wing” form in their lead arm, which happens when it becomes separated from the body through impact.

In full swings, getting your shoulders to rotate in your golf swing is a great way to reinforce proper weight distribution. If your swing is all arms, it’s much harder to get your weight to naturally shift to the inside part of your trail foot in the backswing. Sure, you could make the mistake of “sliding” to get weight on your back foot, but that doesn’t fix the issue. You must turn into your trial leg to generate power. Additionally, look at the difference in separation between my hands and my head in the 8-iron examples. The green picture has more separation and has my hands lower. This will help me lessen my angle of attack and make it easier to hit the inside part of the golf ball, rather than the over-the-top move that the other picture produces.

Stay Better Connected in the Backswing

When you don’t keep everything in your upper body working as one, getting to a good spot at the top of your swing is very hard to do. It would take impeccable timing along with great hand-eye coordination to hit quality shots with any sort of regularity if the arms are working separately from the body.

Notice in the red pictures of both my 60-degree wedge and 8-iron how high my hands are and the fact you can clearly see my shoulder through the gap in my arms. That has happened because the right arm, just above my elbow, has become totally disconnected from my body. That separation causes me to lift my hands as well as lose some of the extension in my left arm. This has been corrected in the green pictures by using this drill to reinforce that connection. It will also make you focus on keeping the lead arm close to your body as well. Because the moment either one loses that relationship, the towel falls.

Conclusion

I have been diligent this year in finding a few drills that target some of the issues that plague my golf game; either by simply forgetting fundamental things or by coming to terms with the faults that have bitten me my whole career. I have found that having a few drills to fall back on to reinforce certain feelings helps me find my game a little easier, and the “towel drill” is most definitely one of them.

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