I had my first golf lesson in 10 years last Saturday! It was from the long standing English Squad coach and renown short-game guru, Gary Smith. Why has it been so long since I let anyone have a look at my swing? Well, I believe that a coach has to “practice what they preach”. I would never tell a student to do something that I couldn’t master myself first. That’s like Cheryl Cole giving a singing lesson!
So the last few years I have been studying the full swing in great depth and it’s fair to say that I now have a pretty good handle on what happens. I can demonstrate effectively and strike the ball very consistently from day to day with zero practice. However, my short-game has definitely been neglected and my skills in this area are not as sharp as they should be.
So, while down at a teaching seminar I told Gary that I was struggling with one particular shot and technique. The mid-sole pitch shot. Having spent so many years drilling a flat left wrist into my physique it’s very unnatural for me to let my left wrist bend back through impact with any confidence.
So Gary watched me hit some shots and then commented on what he saw. He gave me a check-list of 11 adjustments that I would have to make in order to hit these shots they way he wanted. Now, I can pitch the ball ok. It’s not as if I duffing it all round me, but with my current technique there might be one shot in 10 that I hit slightly thin or slightly heavy. In competition, and with a lot of pressure these odds still aren’t that good.
You see folks, we can get lulled into a false sense of security with our technique. We can hit 10 shots to the same target with no pressure and it’s quite realistic that 7 or even 8 out of 10 of these shots will be pretty good. However, the other two might be 50 feet away from our target. It’s how good your bad shots are that is the true measure of how competent your technique is. This is a key determinant for scoring ability as well.
Here’s a quick story to drive this point home. Ted is a good golfer and always remarks about how good his short-game is. He is always chipping a few balls to one of the pins on the chipping green. He hits the same little two hop and stop chips that are always dancing around the hole.
One afternoon, Ted challenges Billy, another well respected player at the club to a little wager on the short-game. Ted says “Here Billy, let’s play 2 quid nearest the pin from 30 yards, 3 tries each”. Billy says “Ok Ted, but lets play the following format instead. 10 balls each and we count the total distance that all 10 balls are away from the pin”. Ted says “No problem Billy, I’ll play whatever game you want, my short-game is as sharp as my mother-in-laws tongue”.
So they both take it in turns to hit there 30 yard chips. Ted has a few dancing round the hole as usual and Billy is hitting solid chips to all around 5-10 feet. About three quarters of the way through Ted starts to wind Billy up about this lack of touch. Not long after, on his 10th shot, Ted catches one thin and the ball scoots over the back of the green and down the slope onto the cart path. Billy hits his 10th and last shot, a nice solid chip to 8 feet and then they go up to count the scores.
Ted’s first 9 balls came to a total distance of 36 feet (about 4 feet on average). Billy’s first 9 balls come to a total distance of 63 feet (about 7 feet on average). Ted is 27 feet ahead! However, the 10th ball of Ted’s, the one he sculled, finished 100 feet away from the pin. Billy’s 10th shot was the same little 7 foot distance. Ted’s total distance came to 136 feet while Billy’s came to 70 feet. Billy had won by a margin of 69 feet. Ted just shook his head in disbelief and finally Billy said “by the way we were playing for a pound a foot”.
You see, I could have just accepted that my short-game was fairly solid and not been too worried about the “odd” bad one. I mean 11 adjustments to my technique for the odd bad shot seems like a lot of work for just a small return. However, that odd bad one just might be the shot I hit on the last hole with a chance to win a regional tournament.
In the next part of this blog, I will tell you the changes he recommended but more importantly how I plan to implement them into my technique and make them hold up under pressure.
See you then,
Technique Focus - Vertical Shaft Plane
Many of you will have heard the terms “getting stuck” or “coming up and out of it”. What does this golf vernacular really mean? Well it’s referring to the angle of the shaft at impact. The moment of truth is all important and having the correct Vertical Swing Plane is key for straight shots. In our set up position the VSP is around 45-48 degrees and at impact it should be roughly the same or only a few degrees higher. However when the VSP get too high it makes it really hard for the centre of gravity (COG) of the clubhead to rotate around the axis of the shaft. This leads to the clubface being left open (pointing to the right) to the target line. It can also cause the clubhead to attack the ball from too much of an inside out approach, causing push shots.
Player A. Geoff Ogilivy
He has raised his arms and the clubshaft too much
at impact which moves the swing path too far to the right.
A series of blocks and pushes can be a common miss with this fault.
Player B. Matt Kuchar
His right forearm remains on the original shaft angle
and his clubshaft only raises slightly. This will create a
very neutral swing path and allow the clubhead to rotate freely.
So how can we avoid this overly high VSP angle? Well if you look at Matt Kuchar he has kept his backside on the imaginary “tush line”. This in turn helps him remain in his spine angle during impact. These body positions allow Matt to keep his right elbow on the original shaft plane. You have to have strong glutes and flexible calf muscles to maintain the tush line. A strong back is needed to keep the scapulars from pulling forward and rounding the shoulders. Compare this to Ogilivy whose backside has been sucked in away from the imaginary tush line (early extension). This has straightened his spine prematurely which in turn has raised his right elbow way off the original shaft plane. Geoff really needs to get much stronger to be able to control his body under the forces of a 115 MPH golf swing. Now Geoff is a fine player but he will have to rely on timing of his hands to square the clubface much more than Matt.
Here is a good image to ingrain in your mind;
Here’s a couple of exercises to help you with this common problem. One is a gym based exercise and the other is a drill you can perform at the range.
Many new it was coming but now it’s official the “anchoring” method of putting has been outlawed by the self-elected “gate keepers” of the game. Rule 14-1b has been drafted which “prohibits strokes made with the club that directly rests on a player’s body to establish an anchor point”. The proposed rule doesn’t come into effect until 2016 but the stigma of using such a method will be now deemed as effectively cheating.
In his press conference Peter Dawson, CEO of the R&A stated “Our objective is to preserve the skill and challenge of the game”. Mike Davis from the USGA commented “the game has been around for 600 years and we don’t think this is the right way to go”. These comments are drenched in more than a little irony by the fact that a squadron of bulldozers are about to descend onto the hallowed turf of the Old Course, St Andrews in an attempt to “toughen it up”.
This recent reaction from the governing bodies is like putting a lock on the gate when the horse has not only bolted but is in the knacker yard. For years these bodies turned a blind eye to regulating the technological advancements of the ball and equipment. In 1983 Curt Byrum led the driving distance on the PGA Tour with 276 yards. If you compare that to 2012 you would have to go all the way down to Jerry Kelly who is 180th on the list. 1983 was also the year a young pro called Charlie Owens stuck a couple of shafts together and made the world’s first long putter. He never patented the idea as he said “never thought it would take off as the thing was so goddam ugly”. Since then only 3 players have ever won major’s using them and the total wins haul comes in at under 5 per cent of tournaments played. Based on this year’s “strokes gained” putting stat which is the truest measure of an effective putter you would have to scroll down to 21 on the list to find Carl Petterson as the first brandishing an anchor based putting stroke.
The evidence is not there to back up this rule change so we are only left to assume that the old boy’s didn’t like the look of it.
Trackman Off Season Testing
The official season has come to a close and many golfers’ will be keen to do some ‘off season’ testing to their games and equipment. We can offer many specific services that can help with this;
- Combine Testing
This 60 shot test allows you to measure the strengths and weaknesses of your game by hitting 6 shots to 10 different targets. These targets vary in length from 60 yards all the way to your maximum driving distance. Once completed it will give you a great insight into what areas of your game you need to work on over the off season. The test also offers a comparison analysis. Once you enter your handicap it will compare your test results against 1,000’s of other golfers’ in the Trackman database that have the same exact handicap as you. This way you can meaure your strengths and weaknesses objectively against golfers’ of your ability, not trying to compare yourself against PGA Tour stats! Many golfers’ perform this test at the start of the off season and then ‘re-test’ themselves again just prior to the start of the season to see how much they have progressed.
- Find Your Distances
Key to iron play is consistent distance control and the ability to hit the ball pin high. How can you do this if you don’t know how far your all your irons go? I wish I received a pound for every golfer who told me at the start of the lesson that they hit their 7 iron X distance only to be surprised that they actually hit it 10 yards less! The Find Your Distance application allows you to hit 5 shots with each iron; from SW to your longest iron or hybrid and then takes an average of each club. Once completed it creates a detailed PDF report. This report will give you vital information that you need including; carry distance, total distance, apex height, landing angle, spin rate and launch angle. Many golfers carry the distance matirx in their pocket when they play so they can refer to it on the practice tee and on the course.
- Wedge Gapping
“I have a pitching wedge and a 56 degree sand iron” I often hear people say. “That’s great” I say “So you have 2 clubs to cover 75% of the shots you will face and have 4 woods in your bag that all go the same distance!” If you don’t have a consistent 10-12 yard gap between your most lofted wegde and 8 iron, your set make up is wrong and you are making the game much harder for yourself. The 30 minute wedge gapping application we use on Trackman will highlight these gaps and recommend the correct spread of lofts, lies and shaft length for your set.