Here are my thoughts on practice. You can improve your ball striking, chipping and putting by practicing, but the only way to improve your game is to play. Some people enjoy practice, sometimes to the extent that they would rather practice than play. Others don’t practice much because they would rather use the time they have to play the game. Let’s face it, if you want to improve you are going to have to do both. It has been written that it takes 10 years and thousands of hours of practice and playing time to become a touring professional. Average golfers don’t have that kind of time, so it is essential that if they want to improve they need to practice with a purpose every time they go to the range.
Beginners are going to have a different set of goals than more experienced players when it comes to practice. To keep practice fun and productive, have a plan before you go to the range. Do some stretching first and then warm up with the club that you feel the most comfortable with. The reason is that if you start with a club that you have less confidence in and it does not go well, the rest of your practice session may not either.
The goals for the beginner in those first practice sessions should be to work on what was learned in their lessons and to begin to determine how far they can hit each club. Improving on accuracy and consistency is going to take a while, but having to select a club for each shot is going to be required the very first time you play. Allocate at least half your allotted time to the short game. More experienced players know that a good short game improves scores significantly and therefore devote more time to that part of the game.
A more experienced player is going to have a different set of goals when they practice. First, on days where you have some time, decide what and how you are going to practice before you get to the range. Include time for working on your strengths along with your weaknesses. Visualize every shot before swinging. Try different shots similar to those that you might encounter on the golf course. Every shot on the golf course results in a consequence. Rotate your clubs every 5 to 10 shots and always aim at a target. Utilize practice swings and make sure to work on your pre-shot-routine. In other words, the more you practice things that you might encounter in an actual round of golf the more comfortable you are going to be when you do play.
Another idea is to simulate playing each hole on the course that you are about to play in the next day or two. This is a great way to prepare for that next round of golf. By doing the above you may be able to avoid being one of those players that complains that they can never hit the ball as good on the course as they do on the range.
Without question good tempo, timing and rhythm is key to having a consistent and reliable golf swing. So much so that I devoted a whole chapter to the subject in the second edition of my book “Triangulate Your Golf Swing.” Now, new information on tempo has come to light since the book was published. In the April, 2012 issue of Golf magazine the subject of tempo was discussed as it relates to professional as well as amateur golfers. The author of the article started studying video clips of every PGA and LPGA golfer that could be found. By counting frames it was discovered that professionals swing at a 3 to 1 ratio. That is, they take 3 times as long to complete their backswing as it does to complete their downswing. This held true even when actual cadences varied for different golfers. For instance, some swung faster at say a 18/6 frame ratio while others swung at 30/10 and others somewhere in between. The common factor was that nearly every tour player timed out at a 3-1 ratio. They also studied amateur golfers and found that the ratios were more like 3.5/1 and higher. They also viewed some not so stellar shots of professionals and found that in many cases they failed to maintain the 3 -1 ratio. To substantiate the findings, the data was submitted to independent researchers at the Yale University Department of Applied physics.
To find out what your own swing ratio is, Golf magazine suggests that you have someone take a video of your swing. Then count the frames using a computer program that shows videos frame by frame. Once you determine the ratio, you can take steps to develop it into a 3-1 ratio like the pros. Although the article gave some ideas on how to do that, I found them to be impractical in practice.
What I finally came up with is the idea of counting as you swing. That is, count 123 to the top of your backswing and 4 on the downswing. The goal is to keep the cadence smooth (1234 or 1-2-3-4 or 1–2–3–4). Try different speeds until you find the one the suits you best. This may take a few practice sessions, but eventually you will start to groove your swing.
The best way to put your improved tempo to use on the course is to continue using the count method above. At least until it is built into your muscle memory and subconscious. You will discover two things when you do this. First, you will not think about swing mechanics and second you will not force your downswing. In fact, if any part of your swing goes out of cadence you will instantly know it.
Don’t forget your putting and chipping. Good tempo counts just as much around the greens. Professionals use either and 2-1 or a 1-1 cadence for putting. You will have to experiment to see what works best for you. When just off the green try 2-1 for chipping.
I encourage you to try the above methods as I have seen some very positive results in people’s games when using them.
Part 1 of this series introduced the four most common setup and swing faults. It also discussed the importance of having a correct grip and provided a link discussing how to get a proper grip. Part 2 discussed and provided links for posture and alignment.
Part 3 of this series discusses one of the most common swing faults. That is, not staying connected. A connected swing simply means that the hips, torso, shoulders and arms are working in the proper order. See my post on biomechanics for an explanation. Most high handicap golfers get this sequence wrong by letting their arms out pace the rest of their body leading to all kinds of errant shots.
The key to staying connected is to keep the upper left arm close to the chest on the backswing and the downswing, with the right arm reconnecting during the downswing and the follow-through. Here is a link with further explanation and some videos.
Correcting any or all of the setup and swing faults discussed in this series will produce cleaner, crisper shots and contribute to a more consistent and reliable golf swing
In part 1 of this series I discussed the grip as being one of the 3 most common setup faults. In this post I am going to talk about the other two. That is, posture and alignment.
Fault 2 – Posture
Proper posture is important because it ensures good balance throughout the swing and allows one to achieve maximum power during the downswing. The most common fault that I see with posture is when the hands are set too far away from the body with the arms extending out from the shoulders at an angle other than vertical. With the arms in this position it is difficult to create and maintain a proper swing plane which may cause the arms to reroute on the downswing. Secondly, if the arms are not allowed to hang down naturally then one must make an effort (tension) to hold them up. This can lead to tension buildup throughout the entire swing.
It has been written that the spine angle at address should be between 30 and 45 degrees from vertical. That is a substantial difference and is probably because golfers come in all different heights. Nevertheless, getting into the proper posture with the arms hanging vertically and the spine at the proper angle is not all that difficult to do. Learn how here. After learning how to obtain the proper posture and what it feels like, check it every time you make a swing.
Fault 3 – Alignment
Alignment is simply the process of making sure the feet, knees, hips, shoulders and eyes are parallel to each other and to the target line. Average golfers usually get their feet, knees and hips aligned parallel, but fail to get them to align parallel to the target line. The tendency is to align everything towards the target line. At the same time, the shoulders tend not to be aligned with the rest of the body, but rather in an open position . This can cause a shot to go left or right off the club face or cause an otherwise good shot to go right of the target. Learn how to achieve the proper alignment here.
Obtaining the proper grip, posture and alignment before every shot will contribute to better performance on the golf course. Check them often as you work them into your pre-shot routine.
In part 3 of this series I will discuss a swing key that you must get correct to execute a good golf shot.
It is interesting that the most common faults that I see among average golfers have to do with the setup and one (must do correctly) swing trigger. Now, I do understand that the golf swing continually requires adjustments and unconscious compensations. Unfortunately, these things can and often cause perfectly good golf swing habits to go astray without you knowing why. In this series of posts I am going to talk about some common faults that you may have, not be aware of, and that you can easily correct without much effort. Albeit, after the corrections are made it may require your diligent attention for some time so that you don’t revert back to old habits.
Three of the four most common faults have to do with the setup. For one reason or another average golfers just don’t pay enough attention to their setup. Reasons may have to do with not wanting to hold up the other golfers in their group or maybe they routinely do things a certain way (right or wrong) and they don’t think they need to check their setup before they swing. Actually, it does not take that much time to check your setup and it should be part of any good pre-shot routine. If the setup is correct then most likely you are going to hit a good shot. Overall that will save time because you won’t have to look for as many balls or hit as many balls from undesirable places on your subsequent shots.
Fault 1 – The Grip
One of the first things a new golfer learns is how to grip the club. I would venture to say that most people initially learn how to grip the club properly whether from a golf instructor or a book. Yet, if you observe golfers that you play with or those on the practice range, rarely will you see a proper grip. Look closely and you will see overly strong grips or overly weak grips or some combination of a strong left or right hand with a weak left or right hand.
So, how is it that a high percentage of average golfers end up using a bad grip when they most likely learned the proper grip initially? The answer is, it is the grip that works best for their particular swing. In other words it is the grip that they have had the most success with. Not to say that they hit mostly good golf shots, but rather that they hit the highest percentage of acceptable golf shots with the grip they are using. That percentage is most likely still way too low for most people.
Will changing back to a proper grip improve the way a person hits the ball? Not necessarily. That is, not without correcting the other things that are wrong with their setup or swing. In fact without correcting their other faults, they could end up hitting the ball worse. Arnold Palmer tells the story about his father teaching him the proper grip. Once Arnold was gripping the club properly his father told him never to change it. His father knew that swing faults or other compensations could cause his son to change his grip. Once that happens other swing faults may not be as easily corrected. The bottom line here is to learn the proper grip, stick with it and check it often. If your current grip is not correct then fix it, but expect to take the time to correct your other faults. Here is a good website for learning the proper grip.
Two more common setup faults (posture and alignment) will be discussed in part 2 of this series.