If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”
Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.
In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.
The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.
[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]
Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.
Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.
So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!
Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers
There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.
If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.
My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).
Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.
Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.
If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.
Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.
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?
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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.
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- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
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The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things