Golf Instruction: A Creative Manifesto

As I log on to Facebook to check out what my colleagues are talking about in our many different Golf Professional teaching groups, I notice a terrifying trend. The golf instruction world, is as divided as the United States government. We have so many different swing theories and within each one of those theories we have radicals. The “my way or the highway” thinkers. Their disdain for the other swing theories leads to a dislike for the people who teach those theories. It’s turned into an all-out war for the imaginary, golf instruction throne. But, in this mess, I believe I have found the recipe for unmatched success to unleash every golfer’s highest ability.

 

It all started with a man by the name of Eric Hogge. He was one of my instructors as I went through the PGA PGM program. As he stood before us in the classroom he said these words, “Find things in the golf swing that you think are certainties, and prove them wrong.” This has been my challenge and my goal for the last 3 years. I have read every book I could get my hands on. I started with Hogan’s Five Lessons. I then paid an outrageous $85 for the Golfing Machine. I quickly found out I needed a doctorate in physics to fully understand it. But, I had many take a ways and appreciated his attempt to rethink the golf swing. Then, I dug deeply into Stack and Tilt by Andy Plummer and Michael Bennett. This is one of the most criticized golf books out there but I believe it brings some unbelievable arguments to the table. I then attended the Dr. Kwon Biomechanics certification course. That doctorate in physics would have paid off again here as well. But, again I walked away from the seminar excited to dig deeper and find out what is really happening in a golfer’s swing. Then Sasho Makenzie captured my attention and his approach to kinetics and the mid-hand forces in the golf swing. And of course, Bob Grissett posted on Facebook about the most in-depth golf book every written, so of course I ordered myself a copy. Followed by becoming TPI certified. I haven’t learned everything. And I still have a long way to go. But, I have learned one thing, if we could get over ourselves, we could see the connection between them all.

 

Every time I step onto the lesson tee I become someone different. One student will need me to be a Stack and Tilt teacher. The next will need me to help them understand Dr. Kwon’s theories on ground reaction forces and moment arms. With every student my approach to teaching changes. I am passionate about every single swing theory. I have to be, because I have come across students that need me to know all of them in order to help them reach their highest potential.

 

Golf instruction is a tricky thing. Every student wants and needs something different. Someone once told me, “If you are giving the same lesson over and over again, you are doing something wrong.” No two students are alike and no two students have the same goals. Which means I need to be able to fit my student into the best swing for that individual and that individual’s goals. It honestly doesn’t matter what I do in my swing, what a student did in a previous lesson, or what Ernie Els does. The golf swing is an art form. It is my job to fit the painting to the canvas. It is not the student’s job to fit into my idea of what a golf swing should look like.

Start Swinging!

As I stand in the golf shop greeting members as the finish they finish their rounds, I hear all kinds of different reasons why they didn’t play well. Most often I hear people talk about how their downswing isn’t working for whatever reason. “I’m picking my head up.” “I keep rolling my wrists over.” “I just need to feel my hands pulling towards the ball.” The list is endless and it takes everything in me to bite my tongue. When I work with players, about 10% of our swing is focused on the downswing. Let me explain.

Too often we think about the downswing as a force that is being exerted. We get to the top of our backswing, pause, and try to expend all of our energy to generate speed. We then get to the bar after our round with an aching back and we feel completely exhausted. Sound familiar?

I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan. (It’s a rough life I lead.) Before he was traded, Aroldis Chapman was by far my favorite pitcher. For those who don’t know, he has set the record multiple times for fastest pitch ever. Watching his unique blazing speed was always a treat as he often sat down just about every batter that he faced. And he did it with what seems like an effortless motion. There is no hard jerking motion and everything seems to flow together. Watch the video below as Sports Science explains how this amount of speed is generated.

Just like Aroldis Chapman, every great golfer uses their body’s potential energy to generate the power for them. As you watched the video above, Dr. Tom House describe the torque created by the angle between his shoulders and hips. When this energy is released we can clearly see a massive amount of speed delivered to his arm.

In a very similar way, we see this same thing in the golf swing. As golfers turns his right hip back and his shoulders turn, they generate torque. If a golfer does not generate this torque they will usually struggle with their downswing and impact position. This is because the downswing is not a force but a releasing of built up energy. The golf club, when forced down, is controlled by the small muscles in our hands and arms. Using the torque our body creates allows the large muscles to generate power and consistency. That is why, most great golfers you watch on TV make it seem effortless. We can physically see the torque built up in the backswing of all three of these greats below.

I’d challenge you, next time you go to the range, focus on your backswing. Focus on building torque with your body. We feel this in our hips and in our shoulder turn. We will then let the club fall and let the built up energy guide it back to the ball.

Here are a couple drills to practice:

  •             Step Drill

Set up with your feet together. As your start your backswing step to the right with your right foot. Before you finish your backswing step towards your target with your left foot. Almost like you are throwing a football or baseball. As you step towards the target don’t force the club down. It will follow you and you will hit it at least 5 yards farther than usual. (maybe Happy Gilmore was onto something.)

  •             Walk and Swing

This one sounds easy but is very hard to get the rhythm. Take a seven iron and start swinging it back and forth. Small, half swings is sufficient. Feel very loose and free. After you have a good rhythm, start taking small steps forward. You will be stepping with your left as our club approaches the end of the backswing and you will step with your right as you approach the end of your follow through. As you do this feel the motion in your hips and shoulders. Focus your body on feeling the torque created.

  •             Hit 3 Balls in a Line

This one is a variation of the walk and swing. As you become more proficient with the walk and swing drill we can add a ball. I want you to line up three balls down your hitting area. they shouldn’t be more that a club head’s length apart. Start by swinging the club back and forth. As you get into a good rhythm step forward and hit the first ball. Keep stepping and hit the second golf ball then the third.

I will add videos of these three drills shortly.

If you have any question, email me a question or a swing video.

cameronwilliamsgolf@gmail.com

 

Stop Guessing – Understanding Ball Flight #2

Cause and Effect

The Clubface

When we are talking about ball flight it is important to remember that the direction of the clubface is the predominant factor in which direction the ball starts. The “path” of the club can have an effect on the direction but for now, when we talk about the starting direction of the golf ball we will be focusing on the clubface.

a.     The easiest way to see this is to hit a few putts. If I point the face of the putter left, and make a straight back straight through stroke, the ball goes left.

b.     We can also use our putter to test the effect path has on our ball. Because of the friction with the putting surface we will not see the ball curve but all I want you to see is the direction the golf ball starts. If I set up with my putter pointing straight and I make a big swing from right to left, the ball will slightly go left but only a fraction of the amount it did when we faced the putter left.

c.      This example holds true when we use our wedges, irons, hybrids, woods, and driver.

Now that we know the clubface is the biggest factor in which direction our golf ball starts, let’s find out what makes the ball curve. If I have a machine that I can swing in a perfectly straight line with a square clubface the ball would fly straight. Because the golf swing is on a circular plane it is very hard to hit a ball perfectly straight. One tour player said that any time he hits a ball straight it is probably a mistake. We also have sayings such as, “the straightest hitters don’t hit it straight.” This is because it is so difficult to hit a ball straight; and it is the rounded path of the golf club that makes this perfectly straight shot almost impossible.

We have two swing paths that cause our many different ball flights.

In to Out – this is when at impact for a right handed golfer, the club is moving to the right, away from the body.

Out to In – this is when at impact for a right handed golfer, the club is moving to the left, towards the body.

When we combine the clubface and the club path we begin to see curvature in our golf shots. The amount of curve is determined by the difference in angle of the clubface and the direction of the path. Let’s take a look at our basic ball flights and find out what combination of clubface direction and club path direction creates each shot.

a.     Pull

This occurs when our clubface is left and the path of the club matches the clubface angle.

b.     Push

This occurs when our clubface is right and the path of the club matches the clubface angle.

c.      Draw

This occurs when the club path is to the right and the clubface is a smaller angle to the right. For example: if my club path was heading 5 degrees to the right and my club face was only 2 degrees to the right then I would hit a ball that slightly draws to the left. Anytime the path is farther right than the clubface the ball will curve to the left.

A hook is simply a larger difference between the path and the clubface. For example: If my path was headed 12 degrees to the right but my clubface was square, I would see a large amount of curvature to the left on the golf shot.

d.     Fade

This occurs when the club path is to the left and the clubface is a smaller angle to the left. For example: if my club path was heading 5 degrees to the left and my club face was only 2 degrees to the left then I would hit a ball that slightly draws to the left. Anytime the path is farther left than the clubface the ball will curve to the right.

A slice is simply a larger difference between the path and the clubface. For example: If my path was headed 12 degrees to the left but my clubface was square, I would see a large amount of curvature to the right on the golf shot.

If we know these basic combinations, then we can determine where our clubface was pointing at impact and in which direction our swing path was going for each swing.

Stop Guessing – Understanding Ball Flight #1

Stop Guessing!

One of the biggest problems I see when observing players on the range practicing is that they have no idea what the ball is doing in the air. Sure, they can see it fly but they cannot assess the flight properly in order to correctly adjust their technique. This is a HUGE problem. A ball that flies straight right can be much different than a ball that curves to the right. Before we can dive into the swing we need to first discover what we call “Ball Flight” and “Ball Flight Laws”.

7 Basic Ball Flights

i.         Straight

This is a shot that starts at your target and does not curve in either direction.

ii.         Pull

This is a ball that starts to the left of your intended target but flies straight not curving in either direction.

iii.         Push

This is a ball that starts to the right of your intended target but flies straight not curving in either direction.

iv.         Draw

This is a ball flight that slightly curves from right to left.

v.         Hook

This is a ball flight that dramatically curves from right to left. Often over 15 yards or more from our intended target.

vi.         Fade

This is a ball flight that slightly curves from left to right.

vii.         Slice

This is a ball flight that dramatically curves from left to right. Often over 15 yards or more from our intended target.

More Complex Ball Flights

i.         Pull Hook

This is a ball flight that starts left of our target and curves from right to left dramatically.

ii.         Push Slice

This is a ball flight that starts right of our target and curves from left to right dramatically.

iii.         Pull Slice

This is a ball flight that starts left of our target but curves from left to right dramatically.

iv.         Push Hook

This is a ball flight that starts right of our target but curves from right to left dramatically.

Paint The Picture

Paint the Picture

        Visualization has an incredible effect on our bodies. Don’t believe me? Have you ever had a nightmare? Whether it is about spiders or showing up to school in your underwear; you usually wake up breathing heavily, sweating, and sometimes scared to death. Was the dream real at all? No. It was all in your imagination. But, it still greatly affected how your body functions. Your mind can do the same thing to your body on the golf course.

         One of the greatest golfers in the world used to say, “You are hitting the ball to a memory.” He said this because we aren’t looking at the target when we swing. Unlike most sports, we aren’t able to see our target as we make our motion. Basketball, baseball, and football all allow and encourage you to look at the target as you make your attempt at the target. Golf is different. We have to have a clear picture in our minds of what the target looks like and how we are going to get the ball to that target. Golf is an art, and it requires creativity. Without this clear picture in our minds, our minds wander and we lose all focus on the job at hand.

         As we approach each shot, going through our routine (see chapter …), we have a lot of decisions to make which are addressed in the “Become Your Own Caddy” section. We use art to hit a golf shot. The process of assessing our ball and our intended target is the canvas, and the shot needed to approach the target is our paint brush. As we assess, we may see the bunker short of the green, the water to the right, or the big over-hanging tree in our way. These are not obstacles. They are simply pieces of art that serve to enhance the beauty of the picture we paint.

         Now that we know why we must “pain the picture” let’s talk about how to do this.

 

  1. The Canvas
    • This is the process of determining:
      • The lie of our ball.
      • The options available to hit our target.
      • The area surrounding the target.
      • Outside factors that will affect the ball in flight.
  1. The Paintbrush
    • This is the time to determine our tool:
      • The type of shot we want to hit.
      • The club we want to use.
      • The way we will use the course to our advantage.
  1. The First Stroke
    • This is where we see the shot:
      • After the decision process is over and we feel confident with our shot, we stand behind the ball and watch ourselves hit the shot in our mind.
        • See yourself address the ball.
        • Imagine the swing.
        • Then trace the path of the ball in the air with your eyes.
        • See the ball leave behind a trail of red as it flies through the air.
        • Walk slowly to the ball
        • Take your stance
        • One last look at the target, seeing the red line, your ball left in the air, in your painting.
      • Some people struggle “seeing” or visualizing the shot in their mind. If you cannot get your mind to work that way. Use your club and body to mimic your intended shot. This is not as effective but is a better alternative than doing nothing.
  1. Sign Your Masterpiece
    • Make a confident swing on the ball.
  • Not every shot is going to be executed perfectly. Not every painting is the Mona Lisa. Don’t stop painting the picture even when the stroke isn’t there. Keep painting and the masterpiece will come.

Confident > Correct

What was so hard about that?

Your confidence on the golf course is more important than being correct. I do realize just how ridiculous that last sentence sounds, but I will prove it.

Think back to your last round of golf on a course that you play regularly. For me, that course is the Golf Center at Kings Island. Now, think about that hole that just kicks your butt, eats your lunch, and gives you a swirly every time you step up to that tee. For those who have never played G.C. at Kings Island, let me tell you about the 9th hole on the North nine. It’s a short Par 5. Only about 470 yards. To the far right is a lateral hazard filled with tall weeds and God knows what. As we move to the left of the lateral hazard we find a few tall trees atop a hill where the cart path runs. Just at the bottom of that hill is the fairway; just waiting to catch a little white, dimpled ball in its pristine green grass. But, unfortunately, we must carry on just a few yards left of that scenic patch of turf. There we find white stakes poking out of the earth. Just beside those devilish stakes are pricy condominiums.

Now I don’t think I have to tell you what happens when I get to this hole. Some of you, I’m sure, are way ahead of me. I step up to the tee and I can hear John Stofa’s condo just calling my name. My heart races and my hands tighten up. No matter how perfectly I line up to hit a shot into the beautiful fairway, my ball drifts, to put it nicely, left into the back yard of our beloved quarterback.

All of you, I’m sure, were taken to a hole similar to the one that I just described. Whether it’s a green you can’t hit, a bunker you can’t get out of, or a tee shot you can’t keep in play, confidence is a key factor in your success or failure.

Bob Rotella tells his tour players to “Play a conservative round with an aggressive mindset.” Next time you step up to that shot that has given you trouble the last few rounds, or like me— the last few years, do these three things:

  • Pick a small target that will leave you in the fairway.
  • Think of the best shot you ever hit with that club.
  • Make an aggressive swing!

Do those three things, and I’ll see you, smiling, in the fairway.

5 Ways to Practice More Effectively

Don't be Bradley Cooper!

There is a big difference between hitting balls and practicing. Too many people, including myself, spend hours at the range and never actually practice. Going to the range and whacking balls is like practicing the guitar by playing Stairway to Heaven on the air guitar in the shower. Its not developing skill and more likely is building bad habits. In order to get better at golf, you must intentionally practice by being focused on every swing. Here is a quick 5 step guide to developing a better golf game.

 

1. Do not hit more than 50 balls at the range.

Most ranges’ small buckets hold about 30-50 balls. That is plenty! Also, do not dump them out. Set the bucket near your hitting area and grab one ball at a time.

2. Don’t be a YouTube golfer!

30% of practice should be spent executing the drills your local PGA Professional has recommended for you.

(Sidebar: If on average you buy a large bucket from your local driving range for $12 and a small bucket is only $6 you will save $6 each trip to the driving range following this guide. After a handful of range sessions you will have saved enough money to take a 30-60 minute lesson from a highly qualified PGA instructor near you.)

3. Go through your pre-shot routine every swing.

You may think you look silly on the range but when you are taking your buddies money on the course they won’t be laughing. If you don’t have a routine, get one!

(I will write a short post on routine in the future.)

4. Focus on the process not the result of each shot.

You are going to hit bad shots when practicing new things. That doesn’t mean you should abandon the instructions given to you by your teacher.

5. Pick a target.

Correctly diagnosing bad shots is impossible if you have no idea where you are aiming! Place an alignment stick or club parallel to your intended target.

  Do those 5 things every time you practice and you WILL play better golf. As your focus improves you can then start adding more balls to your practice session.

Cameron Williams, Spencer Golf Academy, Instructor