You’re sitting at home watching TV, you hear a buzzing noise and see something whiz past your face. You look around to survey the room, then watch a fly land on the wall — what do you do? Chances are, you find the nearest magazine, newspaper (do they still make those?) or TV guide (…kidding), roll it up, creep up on the pesky insect, reach back and take a mighty swing. SPLAT!
What just happened? You swung an object in the direction of a moving object by channeling your RIGHT side brain. You didn’t think about straightening your arm, unwinding your hips before your shoulders or shifting your weight — that would be left-brain thinking, which we use way too often in golf.
The greatest athletes in all sports naturally use the right side of their brain and turn off the left side during their performance. That’s because they are reacting to a object in motion rather than something stationary, like a golf ball. Let’s think of golf like we’re swatting a fly instead of working out a calculus problem as we dive deeper into this line of thinking.
Your brain has two sides — left and right.
The left side controls important types of thinking such as language, logic, critical thinking and reasoning. The right side is much better at creative and expressive tasks, such as reactive movements and motor skills.
In golf, being reactive is not as natural as it is in other sports. That’s because the ball sits still and waits for the player to engage in action. This allows the left brain too much time for analysis. In sports like baseball or hockey, the left side of the brain is active, but not fully engaged. It is the right side that calls the muscles to fire and create the motion we need to contact the ball or puck. Our left side engages with the target and the right responds with the motion to send the ball to that destination. When the left side of the brain tries to cause this motion, it is not doing the job it’s built to do. That is the right side of the brain’s job, and we must become more reactive to play our best possible golf. The trouble here is that we have too much self-chatter due to the time we have to accomplish the task of hitting a golf ball.
How many times do you get over a shot and talk to your inner demons?
- Don’t hit it in the woods
- Stay out of the bunker
- What would happen to my score if I hit it out of bounds?
Or have more mechanical conversations with yourself?
- Keep your head down
- Start back inside
- Stop short of parallel
Many of us do this and the results are rarely favorable. We need to quiet the mind and let the subconscious do its job. That is the right side of the brain. We need to learn how to turn on the right side and turn off the left before we sole the club behind the ball, and the best way to train this is through mental exercises. We can do these exercises right at home and take them to the range once we’re ready. Before long, the exercises will become second-nature, and you’ll be channeling your right brain naturally throughout a round of golf.
So let’s look at the first step toward turning on the right side of our brain and letting go of our conscious thoughts during our swing.
This exercise is much like meditation and needs to be done in a spot where you can get comfortable. Choose your favorite easy chair and settle in. Once you feel cozy, pick a point to focus on — maybe on the wall or floor. I like to place a ball mark on the floor and just focus all my attention on the mark. Inhale deep through your nose and blow the air out through your mouth. Focus on the sound of your breath and allow your eyes to only see the mark. Quiet your mind and if a thought passes through just let it. Don’t dwell on the thought, but concentrate on the mark. Be aware of any outside sounds that may be going on around you. That might be a car going by outside or one of your kids watching television in the next room. Try to focus only on the sound of your breath and let the other outside noise fall into the background This will take practice and this exercise should take about 5 minutes total.
Do this each day for 5 minutes and soon any outside distractions will disappear during the exercise. Five minutes will seem like a very long time at first, but with practice you will get use to it. Once you get good at it, take this same exercise to the range.
Once on the range, the exercise will only be for about 5 to 10 seconds. Do your pre-shot routine as normal — this engages the left side of the brain. Then focus on a point in front of the ball to engage the right side of your brain. If you want to place that same ball mark you used in your exercise at home, go right ahead. Focus on the mark and let your mind go to the place it was when all you heard was the sound of your own breathing. Once you get to this point, let the club swing and hold your finish until the ball lands. Once the ball lands, feel how relaxed your body and mind is. If the result is poor, there’s no need to worry. Let it go and move on to the next shot. This will help keep the mind quiet once it is time to hit the ball again.
In no time, you’ll be treating golf balls like flies, and you might just have a little fun while you’re at it.
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.
For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.
All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.
This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.
So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.
- Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
- Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
- Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
- Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
- This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
- A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
- And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.
So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…
- Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
- You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.
If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.
More from the Wedge Guy
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
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It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!
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