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How to take ownership of your golf swing

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A troubling trend I see with golfers today, both amateur and professional, is the lack of overall ownership they have with their golf swing. I have always said that good golfers are like lambs; they follow the lead of their best golfer friend in order to seek out the magic teachings of their guru, instead of getting their own or working with the coach they currently have. In fact, countless PGA Tour players have left their coach for their friend’s coach, the most legendary example being Tiger Woods’ decision to leave Butch Harmon for Hank Haney, who he met through his best frient Mark O’Meara.

Whether you believe Tiger’s decision was a good one or a bad one, coaching switches have stalled the careers of many great golfers, which could have been avoided if they took better ownership of their golf swings in the first place.

The idea of owning of your swing mechanics was taught to me early on by a Golf Machine Teacher out of Memphis named Charlie Long. He introduced me to Homer Kelley’s great work, and without him I would have never made the idea of swing ownership such an important part of my teaching — and I know after reading this, some of you will alter what you do when it comes to instruction, too.

Here’s the concept in a nutshell: Good golfers know what they feel, know their body, and understand their golf swing mechanics and why certain things work and don’t work for them. For the process to be successful, golfers must buy into the golf swing they have, as well as the golf swing they want to have. Because if you don’t own the knowledge of your current swing — its feels, how it reacts under pressure, and what things negatively affect it — then you will be lost on the golf course.

I’ll admit; this process isn’t easy, and you can’t just trust the first instructor you meet. Finding the right coach is something you as the player should take very seriously, since this will be the person you trust to help you get to the next level. I always say that you should have an idea of what shots you need to eliminate under pressure, and what swing flaws you know causes them. That is ownership — you know what you want to accomplish, and you have a good idea of what could get in the way.

Next, I would suggest you sit down with your new potential teacher and explain what you feel and what you think. See what he says. This interview process helps you filter out teachers and swing philosophies that aren’t a fit for you. From there, I suggest your new teacher perform a simple 5-minute swing analysis, with him explaining what he would like to do and why. This is where you have the chance to speak up, ask questions, and eliminate any misconceptions or confusion before you get to work.

My biggest pet peeve is hearing a golfer say, “I took one lesson from this guy and it screwed me up.” If you owned your swing mechanics, you would have never have let that happen. You would have interviewed the teacher and weeded him out within the first 5 minutes.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: [email protected]

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Dave

    Aug 2, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    Very interesting article.

  2. Dropping three / hitting four

    Aug 1, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Tom – insightful article, thanks.

    Is it reasonable to ask a PGA Professional “Hey I’m committed to improving my game and want to make sure you’re the right guy for the job”? If they don’t want to have that initial conversation should we just run for the hills?

    Golf lessons are a big investment — time, money and (ultimately) the quality of our golf game. Just wondering how to approach professionals in those initial discussions.

    • Jay K.

      Sep 4, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      “If they don’t want to have that initial conversation should we just run for the hills?”

      I would. Good teachers work with what you have. I am sure many have a swing in mind, they want you to learn, but the really good ones realize not everyone can do what is necessary to make that swing work. So, they work with what you can do, and teach you how to get the most from it.

  3. MattSihv

    Jul 30, 2016 at 12:57 am

    This is true! I had someone change my entire swing and after two years with the new swing, my game had completely fallen apart. Went to a new teacher, and he immediately got to the root of the problem. We got back to what was natural for me, and started building from there. The improvement has been mind-blowing.

  4. Philip

    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    Very true – I’m in the process of accepting (owning) my swing. I also know what I am doing incorrectly that would take it to the next level, but I finally realized that my body knows more than myself or any golf instructor will ever know about how it wants to work. Thus, I just keep nudging it along – being sure to never try and control (restrict) my swing – just being aware of of what the club head is doing and what ball flight will most likely result. Golf sure starts to be fun when the ball goes in the direction you are expecting, whether it is a great or mediocre swing. I still have a swing coach I like to review my setup and overall swing fundamentals with, but I accept responsibility for the results.

  5. ILoveHateGolf

    Jul 29, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Boredom alert. You’ve been warned.

    Have taken many lessons from many coaches. Made the ‘take just 1 lesson’ mistake a couple of times early before I committed to getting better. Then I made the mistake of taking 12 or so lessons from a McLean guy who ‘taught’ me to move laterally back 2″ off the ball during my backswing. Learned that what goes back must go forward and was stuck with a sway for years. So I read a lot, mostly conflicting stuff like ‘keep your head still’ and what that nitwit Flick wrote in his (in)famous “Beware keeping your head still!” Golf Magazine article. Took more lessons from a different guy. Stopped seeing him after a $400+ playing lesson and still kept swaying. Decided, like Hogan, to ‘dig my swing out of the dirt’ and after thousands of range balls and 2 Cortisone shots the only thing I dug up was more dirt. Quit golf for 2 years after shooting 93 and 77 in the same day, but am back at it hard again. I have learned plenty over the years, and agree 100% with the idea of ‘owning your swing’. For me it means:
    it’s a swing, not a strike (“ball striking” is a cursed term for me). pulling with the left rather than hitting with the right (I’m RH, and this alone keeps me from lunging at the ball; where were you 20 years ago??). Need to turn all the way through the ball and not stop at impact and start up again. Keep your damn head down, stupid! (I think I need a lesson in positive self-talk.) Keep your grip strong but your pressure light.

    • ILoveHateGolf

      Jul 29, 2016 at 11:53 pm

      And it’s a journey, not a destination. The journey can be and has been mostly fun but not knowing diddly about how you’re supposed to swing and making the same mistakes over and over again is misery. Looking back and realizing most of the lesson guys don’t really know how to make us better was a revelation, as was understanding the folks who experience the most success at Golf Schools are those who cash your ‘tuition checks’. I’d gladly pay a lot of money to a coach who could cut my handicap in half. In fact I offered to do just that to a Trackman joint – with the caveat that if I did what they recommended, practiced 2-3x a week, and played at least 27 holes/wk and didn’t lower my 10 handicap to 5, they would refund my money. Unsurprisingly, no takers there.

      So if you aren’t lucky enough to have played in HS or College, or aren’t a freak with a natural talent, you have to own your swing, do the homework and put in the work yourself while seeking the ‘right’ instructor for you (and depending on where you are in your development, the right teacher now may not be the right one down the road). Good luck. Lord knows in this game most of us need it.

      • Leftienige

        Aug 1, 2016 at 9:45 am

        I had a few lessons from a new pro at my club . He was obsessed that all faults could be cured with a correct grip . After several sessions, and no improvement, I said I’d go my own way for a while . His suggestion was I should come back and see him once a month “To Get my cheque gripped ” .— Freudian slip ?

  6. Mike

    Jul 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Finding the right coach to help you fix swing flaws is a road to nowhere. And it certainly will not lead to any kind of “ownership” of your swing.

  7. Mat

    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    And for anyone on here that spouts of about not buying something and “get a lesson” is very much perpetuating the stupidity.

    For what it’s worth, I worked with a coach for a while and stuck with it through two injuries before I stopped. It’s very hard; he’s a great coach, but it didn’t work for me.

  8. Mr. Wedge

    Jul 29, 2016 at 11:04 am

    The process of finding the “right” coach for average golfers is more difficult than people think. Here’s why: 1) There aren’t any good repositories of instructor reviews. So this leaves us to choose based mostly on recommendations from friends, whose swing could be completely different from yours. 2) You have to invest the time and at least 3-4 lessons before you can tell whether you are making progress or heading in the wrong direction. I was always told, a new swing mechanic may feel wrong just because it’s different from the normal. So how do we differentiate that, from a move that is not right for our swing? Takes time to tell. and 3) Because of both #1 and #2, finding the “right” coach can be a very expensive process that just isn’t feasible for the average golfer. That’s why the “3 lessons for $99” at your local golf store are so popular. But that’s also a waste of money, just a smaller amount to shell out at once.

  9. Andrew Cooper

    Jul 29, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Good stuff Tom. I just think that it is difficult for a learning golfer to know what they need out of a coach. The golfer really into seeking perfect technique, could actually benefit from a more feel based coach-and vice-versa. So maybe keep an open mind too.

  10. Scott Shields

    Jul 28, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I’m a golfing machine guy myself.

    What’s nice is that nearly ANY move can be found in that book as one of the component variations, and quantified. You’ll understand its place in YOUR swing, and more importantly, by understanding your own swing, you can understand how your feelings and mechanics inform each other.

    Good read.

    • 8thehardway

      Jul 29, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      No, it’s not a good read; even with 7 editions under its belt there’s no editing, the format actually impedes comprehension and the overall impression is that whoever inherited the copyright to this work resented the bequest.

  11. 4pillars

    Jul 28, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    I don’t know what happened between Tiger and Butch, but what I have read suggests that there were very serious underlying issues in the relationship, which have nothing to do with his following another golfer to another teacher.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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