Recently I got the following email from one of our Swing Man Golf members named Ken.
Hi Jaacob, Since you’ve been able to do what I’m trying to do, I’m hoping to get some insight from you. I have one question for you, so it should be brief. I’m a big proponent of the 80-20 principle; what do you think gave you the most bang for your buck in terms of improving your score?
According to Wiki, the 80-20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Business-management consultant Joseph Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Pareto developed the principle by observing that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden contained 80 percent of the peas. Wiki also states that it is a common rule of thumb in business that 80 percent of a business’ sales come from 20 percent of its clients”.
I replied to Ken’s message with a few things off the top of my head, but his question got me thinking that a more thorough answer would make for a great article. Personally, I have a very busy life, as I’m sure is the case with many of you. So to get the most bang for your buck, here’s what I’d recommend for you to drop the most amount of shots with the least amount of work.
1. Watch the Clubface Rotation
First, cut down on the amount of clubface rotation in your full swing, pitches and chips. I’ve written about this in previous articles, but I’ll briefly go over it again because it made such a big difference in helping me shoot lower scores.
It used to be that I would start my swing by opening up the clubface relative to my swing path, such that when the shaft was parallel to the ground in the beginning of the back swing, the toe of the club pointed up to the sky in to a position that strangely is sometimes called square. On the way back down, I would roll the club over to impact and pass through to an opposite position on the other side in which toe was pointed back up to the sky when the shaft was again parallel to the ground.
I instinctively wanted to keep the club face more square to my swing path down through the hitting zone, but I figured since so many top players and teachers played with and advocated this rolling-type of hand action that it must be the best way. As soon as my first golf coach, Dan Shauger, took out this excessive rolling action in my swing and gave me the confirmation that it was okay to do so, I immediately started getting more control of my ball and my shot dispersion tightened up tremendously. Over the years, this change also saved me a lot of time on the range. I have been able to maintain an elite level of play with much less practice because my swing became less dependent on timing.
So that’s the first thing I’d say. If you’re having trouble controlling your ball, watch your club face rotation. It’s made a difference to the scores of many of the students I’ve had implement it, and it could do the same for you.
2. Swing Under Control
Second, discipline yourself to always swing under control. I’m talking about full swings here, but this actually applies to all shots. For example, on the pitches, chips, and putts, be smooth and watch being too jerky.
Especially for us guys with our egos, swinging under control is easier said than done. It certainly was one of the more difficult things I had to overcome. However, it is an important lesson because swinging under control can mean better balance, more consistent contact, faster club head speeds, etc.
Further more, shooting lower scores isn’t necessarily about hitting perfect shots. Rather, it’s about cutting down your average dispersion and making your overall misses better in order to eliminate disasters. There are things that point to swinging under control all over the golf world. Count Yogi talked about being boneless. Mike Austin talked about supple quickness and not impeding the pendulum. George Knudson said never to swing beyond a point that takes you out of balance. I like to think of it as watching the amount of tension in your swing. They’re all more-or-less different signposts that point in the direction of the same important lesson.
If you like numbers, earlier this summer PGA Tour winner David Gossett and I were hitting balls and talking about his swing speed using a Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radar. I had him make driver swings at a speed at which he felt like he could hit straight and keep under control. Then I had him swing as fast as he could. The difference was about 8 percent, meaning that he can control his ball at up to 92 percent of his maximum speed. Similarly, I’ve done this test on myself and I am also about 92 percent.
You may be a little more or less than David or myself, but you can do a similar test on yourself to learn your maximum threshold. If you don’t have a radar handy, you can test yourself on the range to learn the feeling at which point your precision starts taking a big dive. Then it’s just a matter of paying attention on the course and training yourself to never go above your personal threshold.
Be prepared for a back and forth tennis match with yourself to create this habit, but your scores will thank you for learning the lesson.
3. Get Custom Fit
Third, you certainly can play good golf with poorly fit golf clubs, but it is much easier to do so if you’ve been custom fit.
I’ll liken this to going out and running a 100-meter race on the track. If you throw on some big red floppy clown shoes, you probably won’t run as fast as if you had a nice pair of correctly-sized track shoes. Likewise, you can perform much better when you get custom fit for your golf equipment. It may cost a little bit more money in the short term, but it saves you in the long run. I won’t get into details in this article, but a knowledgeable teaching pro or club fitter can help you put together a set of clubs that works for you and your style of play on the types of courses you most regularly encounter.
For example, they can help you find a driver that optimizes your launch conditions for maximum carry and roll (although this isn’t always desirable), determine what and how many clubs you’d need to achieve sufficient distance gapping (sometimes you may not need a full set of 14 clubs), figure out how much bounce you need on wedges to be more effective around the greens and determine the amount of loft you need on your putter to get the ball rolling immediately, etc. All of these things can make scoring lower much easier. If possible, get fit at a facility that uses Doppler radar launch monitors like FlightScope or Trackman.
For more information about getting custom fit, you might also read some of the GolfWRX articles by my friend Tom Wishon.
4. Be Consistent
Fourth, to play good golf, it’s important to be consistent. As the saying goes, it’s difficult to master something you are constantly changing. Ironically, to go somewhere you’ve never been, you may need to do things differently than you’ve done before.
This is where a good coach can come in handy. Depending on your goals and how much time you have available, it may or may not be a good idea for you to make certain changes to your technique, equipment, swing thoughts, etc. Something may be more optimal from a scientific standpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be more functional for you.
There’s a Tour player I know whose name I won’t mention. He took up the game rather late compared to most pros, but he pretty quickly self-taught himself to shoot in the mid-60s and he even set a number of course records. Then in order to become more competitive, he decided he need to get a swing coach so he could swing more properly. The coach was well meaning, but they made some changes that completely wrecked my buddy’s natural move to the point where he now struggles to make cuts. I fear he may not survive as a Tour pro.
Interestingly, the guy who has the best chipping game I’ve ever seen in person out of both amateurs and pros is a former scratch-level college player who has been using the same exact wedge and unconventional technique for over 30 years. Therefore, make changes as you and, if you have them, your coach or team feels necessary. However, do so with a great deal of caution because you may be better off perfecting existing parts of your game through some goal setting, well-balanced practice, consistent repetition and mental game work versus changing to something different in regards to your technique, equipment, swing thoughts, etc.
5. Increase Your Club Head Speed
Finally, make sure you have enough club head speed to play your desired tee boxes. An average Tour-level course rates around 74.7 and is roughly 7,224 yards long. To play these type of courses, golfers could probably get away with a driver swing speed of about 100 mph at shorter venues with more generous openings to the greens. But they would also need to be crazy good with their hybrids and long irons, as well as have a superhuman short game. A more realistic swing speed goal is 104-to-105 mph. If you want to play like the average Tour player, you would need to have a swing speed of about 113 mph.
I’ve experimented playing in various professional events as both a power player and a shorter, more accurate hitter, shooting tournament rounds in the 60s both ways. On the shorter courses with soft greens or not as much forced carry, I was fine either way. However, I really struggled with the shorter more accurate style of play as soon as I got to a long sea-level course with hard greens. I couldn’t reach as many par 5’s in two, and coming in with so many hybrids and long irons to par-4’s made it difficult to get the ball landing steeply enough and with sufficient spin to stop the ball anywhere close to the hole.
Having enough club head speed really makes scoring a lot easier. To give you some guidance, take a look at the chart I’ve made below and find how fast you swing your driver (or how far you hit your driver if you don’t know your club head speed). From there, you’ll see the approximate course distance you should play to similarly experience what the average Tour player experiences when playing a Tour level course at 113 mph.
If you find that you are biting off more than you can chew, then to boost your scores I’d either recommend moving up to a more appropriate tee box for your existing level of power (even if that means going up to the forward tee box), or doing 10-to-15 minutes of swing speed training twice per week like what is outlined at Swing Man Golf in order to get your club head speed up to a level where you can manage better scores at the course distances you want to play. The idea with swing speed training is to train to increase your maximum club head speed so that when you back off to 92 percent of your max (or whatever your personal precision threshold happens to be), your “playing speed” also goes up proportionally. You could have the greatest technique in the world, but if your body isn’t conditioned to execute your technique with sufficient speed for the tee boxes you want to play, you’ll just be trying to scale a scoring mountain that is more-or-less insurmountable.
So there’s the 80-20 answer for me as far as it went with lowering my golf scores in big chunks. Give these things a try and hopefully you’ll find similar benefit for your own games. Have fun and good luck!
The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo
One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.
One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.
If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.
Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.
I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.
- Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
- Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
- Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.
My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.
The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.
Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.
The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots
You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.
It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”
So, what do I mean by that?
Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.
The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”
And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.
To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.
But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”
So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?
Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.
Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.
Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.
Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.
See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.
Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.
It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.
Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?
As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.
This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:
- The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
- The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
- The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
- There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
- The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
- The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful
Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.
Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.
- At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
- You can see the head is in the center of the bubble
- On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
- The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top
Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.
- We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
- When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
- Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
- This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives
Now let’s examine impact…
- The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
- The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact
- The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
- The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)
Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact. Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.
So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.
- A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
- These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
- The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
- Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed
Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.
Questions or comments? [email protected]
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