Fingerprints of your swing: More thoughts from Phil Blackmar (with Tom Stickney)
One of the biggest debates in the instructional world is the “way” in which people should use technology within their lessons. Some of the older pros are dead against it and say we have gone too far (Brandel Chamblee). Other pros like to blend feels and science (Phil Blackmar). Finally, some of the pros around think it’s great and wished it was around when they were playing (Frank Noblio). Personally, I think they are all correct!
Mechanics are important. You can’t expect to have the best results possible on the diagnostic end without technology to help you “see” things. On the other end, feels are one of the main tools of concentration used to navigate the course and the multitude of situations which arise. Feels may not be real, as they say, but they are incredibly important.
No two PGA Tour players swing exactly alike. While there are many similarities, every player on tour has learned the value of owning their swing which requires recognizing personal idiosyncrasies. These idiosyncrasies are called Fingerprints.
Phil Blackmar, a long-time PGA Tour Player and multiple winner defines these fingerprints as, “the idiosyncratic motions of the player that binds the swing together under pressure while allowing the player to adjust to any situation.” These fingerprints can be either physical (which we’ll focus on here) or part of the mental game as well.
Fingerprints are the baseline of your personal motion and have several levels. The levels range from aspects of the swing that cannot be changed without risking swing purgatory to ones that may change from week to week or even day to day. Imagine recording these in a notebook to keep them straight and to remember them. Use the first pages to record the permanent fingerprints progressing to the latter pages which relate more to feel keys that change often. Remember, a feel key that ends up lasting a long time may be transferred to a more permanent notebook location.
So, let’s dive in further on Phil’s fingerprints and seed how valuable they can be to you and I as we grow and mature as players.
Notebook Page One
Things that never change and are the backbone of the player’s swing.
- You must turn back and forth during the swing
- There is movement of the pressure back and forth from foot to foot
- The clubshaft returns to impact as a solid unit on the lead side to compress the ball.
- The rear hip stays on or inside the rear foot.
- The swing happens in a sequence, turn, turn swoosh. Following the initiation of the second
- turn, the club swings into impact where it makes a swoosh.
These are the simple ones that all great players possess, but what about page number two? Page two is very important. It is like your personal swing DNA that encodes the things that make your swing unique to you. Care must be taken if changing a fingerprint because it can cost the player his or her swing personality. If this is lost, so too is the game as seen in several instances on the PGA tour.
Notebook Page Two
Things that rarely change and give the player their distinctive look
Here we have Jon Rahm at the top of the backswing and Bryson at address, which are both very unique. Imagine Rahm trying to stand to the ball like Bryson or Bryson with Rahm’s short laid-off backswing. That would be a disaster for them both just like Rahm will never swing it back like Daly or Adam Scott and Bryson will never lower his hands at address like Fuzzy.
You can try and alter things to see if they work better. But, this is where the instructor must respect the feels of the player because such changes may be going up against the player’s unique DNA or fingerprint. It should be a shared journey of discovery between the player and the instructor.
In fact, Justin Rose said this about his own swing while working with Sean Foley:
“My normal MO would be to get the club into a very toe-down position at the top of my backswing and I would have to work hard to square the face at impact. As a young player, this was a way of creating speed. Because of that, my head tends to stay back through impact as well. But those are my traits and the ones I’ve had a really hard time getting rid of, but in some ways they’re my talent. This is how I play golf. I’m not a guy who is closed and super-strong at the top of the backswing and that holds the face very passive through impact, and thankfully Sean understood that and didn’t try and change it.”
Notebook Page Three
Fundamentals that can become fractionally more malleable
These could include such swing aspects as grip, ball position, alignment, width of stance, distance from the ball, club face orientation etc. Remember, just because something looks different or odd it is not necessarily a flaw. While it could be, it also could be a fingerprint so take care in making changes.
So let’s look at this sample swing from this player and see how Page Three would operate.
Everything looks pretty good, but let’s say we (both the player in instructor) felt like he was leaving some power behind and we decided to audit his force production on Swing Catalyst. And as we see above the horizontal force isn’t quite as strong as it should be.
Next, we check GEARS to see what is going on with how he moves his pelvis.
We see that his pelvis has just traveled a few inches forward by this point in his swing and that’s the root of his horizontal force problem. Too little movement too late in the downswing. (3D Rocks!)
Question though?? Could we make his horizontal force grow and peak earlier for added power? We could try, but would that necessarily make this player better? The only way we could find out is to test it subtly and see what happens. As a teacher, however, I will tread lightly because this appears so natural to this player.
Page Four of the Notebook
Things that can change from week to week or even day to day.
These are the carrots of knowledge or epiphanies which you discover in the middle of the night, on the range during warm-up, on the course and so on. These can be very powerful and can turn a bad day into good, a good day into better or just salvage a round. Great players are experts and limiting damage until they can find a feel key to get them to the house so they live to fight another day.
Picture this player struggling with shots hanging right.
We audit TrackMan to see what is happening we find the path and face are fine but the player is catching the ball off of the heel. This ball should have been a wonderful push draw that we like to see but the heel strike countered it and made the ball hang out to the right.
So as we go back and reflect on our notebook, this isn’t a major issue so let’s think about a simple swing key that would help this player without reinventing the wheel.
Is it a page one fingerprint issue- No?
Is it a page two fingerprint issue- No?
It appears to be a page four issue where the player simply needs to focus more on balance and make contact with the intent of finding the middle of the face. So, we experiment with a couple feels and find if he keeps his balance over the middle of his feet rather than toes, the heel shot goes away.
So, this player hits balls and says, “YES, I have it…I’ll just wiggle my toes at address and it will remind me to stay back more towards my heels.” This is an example of opening your notebook and making sure you don’t go off on a tangent trying to fix major things when a simple thought could help. Consistency is born in simplicity, not complexity.
Today it will be wiggling the toes, two days from now it might be focus on hitting the center of the blade, and next week it might be something as radical as “X.” The bottom line is that if items on the first pages of the notebook haven’t changed, then the answer can usually be found in a simple manner.
Concentration, the topic of another blog, uses subconscious pictures and feels to remember the shot before the swing begins. It’s a process that is most efficient with narrow focus rather than multiple concerns. The player who, on the course, can narrow focus while remaining calm, remember the shot prior to swinging, and swing with certainty, is the player most likely to excel in all situations. Mechanics and feels must walk the fairways together.
Clement: “Infallible” release drill to add 30 yards to your drives
Yes, you heard it here: INFALLIBLE! This drill will end all drills as “the” go to drill when your golf swing is hangin’ on or being too forceful! None of my students in the last month either online or in person, French or English, male or female, have messed this up. Pure Wisdom! And we share it with you here.
Kelley: How a change in awareness can influence your body turn
A simple change of awareness can help you understand how the body can naturally turn in the swing. An important concept to understand: the direction the body moves is the engine to the swing. Research also shows the direction the body turns can be just as important as the amount of turn.
Golf is hard because the ball is on the ground, yet we are trying to hit it forward towards a target. With our head looking down at the ball, it’s easy to place our attention (what we are mindful of) on the ground, losing awareness to where we are going. This can make the body move in all sorts of directions, making hitting the ball towards a target difficult.
But imagine if we looked out over our lead shoulder with our attention to the target and made a backswing. Being mindful of the body, the body would naturally turn in a direction and amount that would be geared to move towards the target in the swing. (Imagine the position of your body and arm when throwing a ball). After proper set-up angles, this will give the look of coiling around the original spine angle established at Address.
With this simple awareness change, common unwanted tendencies naturally self-organize out of the backswing. Tendencies like swaying and tilting (picture below) would not conceptually make sense when moving the body in the direction we want to hit the ball.
A great concept or drill to get this feel besides looking over your shoulder is to grab a range basket and set into your posture with Hitting Angles. Keeping the basket level in front of you, swing the basket around you as if throwing it forward towards the target.
When doing the drill, be aware of not only the direction the body turns, but the amount. The drill will first help you understand the concept. Next make some practice swings. When swinging, look over your lead shoulder and slowly replicate how the basket drill made your body move.
The Wedge Guy: What really needs fixing in your game?
I always find it interesting to watch how golfers interact with the practice range, if they do so at all. I certainly can figure out how to understand that some golfers just do not really want to get better — at least not enough to spend time on the practice range trying to improve.
What is most puzzling to me is how many golfers completely ignore the rationale for going to the range to at least warm up before they head to the first tee. Why anyone would set aside 4-6 hours of their day for a round of golf, and then not even give themselves a chance to do their best is beyond me. But today, I’m writing for those of you who really do want to improve your golf scores and your enjoyment of the game.
I’ve seen tons of research for my entire 40 years in this industry that consistently shows the number one goal of all golfers, of any skill level, from 100-shooter to tour professional, is simply to hit better golf shots more often. And while our definition of “better” is certainly different based on our respective skill level, the game is just more fun when your best shots happen more often and your worst shots are always getting better.
Today’s article is triggered by what we saw happen at the Valspar tour event this past Sunday. While Taylor Moore certainly had some big moments in a great final round, both Jordan Spieth and Adam Schenk threw away their chances to win with big misses down the stretch, both of them with driver. Spieth’s wayward drive into the water on the 16th and Schenk’s big miss left on the 18th spelled doom for both of them.
It amazes me how the best players on the planet routinely hit the most God-awful shots with such regularity, given the amazing talents they all have. But those guys are not what I’m talking about this week. In keeping with the path of the past few posts, I’m encouraging each and every one of you to think about your most recent rounds (if you are playing already this year), or recall the rounds you finished the season with last year. What you are looking for are you own “big misses” that kept you from scoring better.
Was it a few wayward drives that put you in trouble or even out of bounds? Or maybe loose approach shots that made birdie impossible and par super challenging? Might your issue have been some missed short putts or bad long putts that led to a three-putt? Most likely for any of you, you can recall a number of times where you just did not give yourself a good chance to save par or bogey from what was a not-too-difficult greenside recovery.
The point is, in order to get consistently better, you need to make an honest assessment of where you are losing strokes and then commit to improving that part of your game. If it isn’t your driving that causes problems, contain that part of practice or pre-round warm-ups to just a half dozen swings or so, for the fun of “the big stick”. If your challenges seem to be centered around greenside recoveries, spend a lot more time practicing both your technique and imagination – seeing the shot in your mind and then trying to execute the exact distance and trajectory of the shot required. Time on the putting green will almost always pay off on the course.
But, if you are genuinely interested in improving your overall ball-striking consistency, you would be well-served to examine your fundamentals, starting with the grip and posture/setup. It is near impossible to build a repeating golf swing if those two fundamentals are not just right. And if those two things are fundamentally sound, the creation of a repeating golf swing is much easier.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: It’s not all about distance
- The Wedge Guy: Are you really willing to get better at golf?
- The Wedge Guy: Anatomy of a wedge head
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