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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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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.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

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.


Dance

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

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.

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Matt Strube is a certified golf geek who started playing golf later in life. He quickly developed a passion for the game, and in 1997, Matt and his partner wrote atheir honors thesis, ‘The Golf University’, that focused on bringing golf to the masses through specialized golf training programs. In 2012, Matt began working with Tim Overman at Golf in Motion Chicago to train his move and lower his handicap from 24 to 7 in just two-years. Matt has now partnered with Tim to bring simple and effective golf instruction to #AverageGolfers through an online workout style home training program. Matt currently works a day job in the corporate world. Tim Overman is the technical contributor to instruction articles, Co-Founder, and Director of Golf Instruction for True Motion Sports. Tim coaches golfers of all abilities out of his Chicago studio.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Lane Holt

    Aug 22, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Mr.Strube,

    You are correct . If I told a 15 hdcp to HIT with his hands he would definitely perform as you stated- poorly !. However, I would NEVER tell someone to HIT period ! HIT is a word that I never use to teach. I would tell them that they must teach their external brains ( their hands which are the only connection to the human structure ) to perform a task that is totally foreign to the Human genetic design.
    These facts and truths have been around since 1992 and I have been trying to share this knowledge with those interested. The golf swing is not a natural action . I would recommend you check out Cortical Homunculus . This may give you insight to the Human design.
    Respectfully,

    Lane

    • MattStrube

      Aug 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks Mr. Holt, I’ll check it out. Always open to new ways of thinking about things and learning more. Really appreciate your comments. Matt

  2. Lane Holt

    Aug 21, 2019 at 7:32 am

    Mr,Strube,

    Nearly 50 % of our brain is dedicated to our * HANDS* , none to our feet! Our feet seem to perform quite well without our attention. Example , walking, running, etc; .
    Teaching our hands to perform this task called the golf swing in a manner that is exactly opposite to the human genetic design is the key to a successful golf swing. Our HANDS control body movements and our body will always obey the hands.
    The blueprint to a successful golf swing has been laid out for all to learn from, yet we still ignore it!
    Best ,
    Lane

    • Matt Strube

      Aug 22, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Just saying/teaching/preaching that 50% of our brain is dedicated to our hands doesn’t get golfers better…Proper Training does, and it doesn’t start with the hands, Full Stop.

      Additionally, the other point about what you’re saying depends on the individual’s own feels. , Feel vs. Real combined with Skill Matters a lot. If you tell a 15 handicapper to use his hands to hit a golf shot, you’ll get laid over sod, blocks, pull hooks, toppers, etc. They haven’t developed the 50% of the brain that you’re telling them to use. We see a lot of those types of folks, and they first and foremost need to learn how to move their body properly, full stop. Finally, it’s all about training the right parts of the body, hands, and arms, in the right order.

      • geohogan

        Aug 22, 2019 at 7:56 pm

        I bet Mr Holt can teach the complete golf swing, as Ben Hogan did it
        in less than 30 minutes… its like dominoes when you start with the HANDS!

        • geohogan

          Aug 23, 2019 at 8:09 am

          50% of the motor cortex is devoted to hands by thousands of years of evolution, not be learning
          or teaching by a golf instructors. Its in our DNA our genetic makeup as human beings.

          Cant teach someone how to use a tool, if knowledge of the tool is incomplete.

      • geohogan

        Sep 7, 2019 at 1:10 pm

        https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/former-blue-jay-josh-donaldson-praises-current-young-star-bo-bichette-he-has-the-gift-020323584.html

        I took one thing away from Josh when I talked to him the first time I met him and he said your hands and your lower body always have to be in synch,” Bichette recalled, according to Longley. “That’s something since that day (I’ve) tried to do.

        What Josh Donaldson told Bo Bichette is remarkably similiar to what Mr Holt wrote.
        Maybe he also knows that 50% of the motor cortex is about supporting the intent we have for the hands?

  3. geohogan

    Aug 19, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Balance is an autonomic mechanism to keep us upright.
    Our subconscious knows what it needs to do in order to maintain
    balance as we move 30-40 pounds (two arms and golf club) from one side of our body to the other.
    its genetic pre programming.

    Ground forces are reaction forces to intent to move weight of hands and arms. The specifics of the intent
    determines how the balance mechanism reacts. Golf instructors know the correct intents or they do not.
    If the latter, no amount of repetition or hard work will be successful.

    • MattStrube

      Aug 20, 2019 at 11:31 am

      Yes, balance is automatic, but I would say the opposite with regards to the reaction forces you mention (if I understand your comment correctly, I apologize if I misunderstood). The movement of the golf swing starts from the ground, with the feet, then moves up through the legs and then into the body’s core to rotate everything through the shot (oversimplification). The hands and arms do not move independently of the body.

      • geohogan

        Aug 20, 2019 at 8:19 pm

        With all due respect Matt, putting out my thoughts on the matter.

        Ive been taught that the hands dominate the motor cortex. ie whatever our intent is for our hands
        the body will support, subconsciously. its a survival mechanism in our genetics.
        We consume food using our hands. Balance is a big part of that support.

        Ive also been taught that the subconscious preprograms all our complex movements in fraction of time prior to the actual effort.

        Understanding the above to be true, then is it not logical that our lower body , knowing in advance
        where the weight of our hands and arms are intending to move, the subconscious balance mechanism will
        brace in advance.

        To all external observation it appears the lower body makes the first moves, true.
        If teaching or learning, it makes all the difference if the above premise are true.
        Most teach and most learn one body part a time(internal focus).

        As a result IMO, proficiency at golf is by any measure a tedious and fruitless effort, resulting in diminishing interest in the game.

        • MattStrube

          Aug 22, 2019 at 5:35 pm

          Possibly, but why does every low handicapper lose spine angle and “hump” towards the ball when they use their hands and arms to hit a golf ball? If what you’re saying is true, shouldn’t the subconsciously be able to properly shift into their left side and move their lower body like el Tigre every time? If you don’t train golfers how to use their lower body, then they won’t improve by telling them “how” to use their hands better.

          • geo

            Aug 22, 2019 at 6:43 pm

            It sounds you think you have figured out how to train a person how to balance during a complex all body motion with bodies comprised of over 200 bones and 600 muscles, rather than letting the hundreds of billions of neurons in our brain and thousands of years of evolutionary learning in our DNA do its job.

            Think about how arrogant and foolish that sounds when we have evolved to do that work subconsciously, perfectly.

            Tiger is the poster boy for bad golf instruction, one body part at a time. His swing in 2000 was perfect
            until the long line of instructors began f… with his swing and his body and his balance.

            Golfers loose spine angle , hump the goat and all kinds of other contortions because their golf instructors dont know the correct INTENTION to teach.

            Golfers are either provided with the PROPER INTENTION for use of their hands in the golf swing or if not the correct intention, golfers will suffer from evolutionary genetic tendency that causes all sorts of golf swing issues, not to mention the self inflicted damage to their bodies that will also result.

            As Mr Holt wrote, the brain makes sure the intent of the hands is supported both by the entire body and the autonomic balance system. It is the evolutionary basis of survival for all humans, even golf instructors.

            • geohogan

              Aug 22, 2019 at 6:57 pm

              and to “hit’ with the hands is absolutely the worst intention and cause of the majority of golf swing problems.

  4. GG

    Aug 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    I can teach the transition in 30 mins or less like dominoes.

    • Matt Strube

      Aug 19, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      If this is the Real GG, I’m sure you can…mad respect.

    • geohogan

      Aug 24, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      No doubt about it a perfect transition can be taught. What good is a perfect transition if the rest of the golf swing sucks.

      Complex movement by humans is one continuous preprogram, set up by a singular intention,
      not a patchwork of positions to piece together.

  5. Larry

    Aug 18, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Great article!

  6. Cameron Wilson

    Aug 16, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Shout out to Robbie Schremp.

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Instruction

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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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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