Developing a Consistent and Reliable Golf Game (Part 1)

If you are trying to get your game up to bogey golf level or better and nothing you do seems help, you may be paying attention to the wrong things. First, you need to realize that bogey golfers are in the top 22% of all that play the game. The second is that to get there may require a lot of effort over time with improvements coming in small increments. This may be time that you do not have. Better golfers spend a lot of time working on their golf swing and need to practice regularly just to maintain a certain skill level. For those with limited time, it would be beneficial to spend at least some of that time on what is going to result in a more consistent and reliable game.

Swing fundamentals are important, but what I am referring to may have nothing to do with swinging a golf club. For instance, it could involve paying attention to other details like making sure your equipment is right or that your course management skills are up to par or that you maintain the proper mental attitude or that you have a good pre-shot routine, etc.. These types of details can take a little effort to get right, but once they are it doesn’t take much more to maintain them. Playing at a higher level requires a certain amount of confidence. Knowing that you can still make pars or birdies after a bad hole or two and end up with good score is a comfortable feeling. This comes with practice and paying attention to the related details. They can’t be separated. Everything must work together harmoniously.

In subsequent posts on this subject I will discuss these types of details and how you can incorporate them into your game.

Golf: Swing the Broom

How far can you drive the ball? Has your distance decreased, stayed the same or increased over the years? Most golfers loose distance over time. As we age the muscles that are used to swing the golf club contract or weaken or something else happens that does not allow as wide a swing arc or as much swing speed. So, it is important to stay strong and limber as long as we can. One of the best exercises you can do to maintain strength while staying limber is accomplished with an ordinary kitchen broom. Here is how to do it.

Start by gripping the broom handle with the bristles in a vertical position. Slowly swing the broom back as far as you can and then forward as far as you can. The broom is going to feel heavy compared to a golf club and as you swing through the hitting zone you are going to feel a lot of resistance. The goal is to work up to 2 sets of 10 repetitions. At first you may only be able to do 5 and 5 and you will definitely feel it in your wrists. So, it is better to work up to the 2 sets of 10 over a few days then to try to do it all on the first day. Increase your speed as you wrists become stronger. You are going to use all your golf swing muscles during this exercise which is why it is so beneficial. You should notice that your wrists are going to position themselves properly in the backswing, through impact and follow-through. You should also notice what it feels like to be connected throughout the golf swing.

This exercise only takes a few minutes a day and you should see an improvement in driving distance within two to three weeks.

Golf: Reducing Tension (part 2)

The first part of this series talked about converting muscle tension to static or dynamic tension. Try the exercise below to feel the difference.

First, grab a golf club and grip it the way you normally do. Use just enough pressure to keep it from slipping out of your hands. Now, squeeze the grip as hard as you can. You should feel your shoulders, arms and wrists tightening up as your muscles start to contract.

Next, loosen your grip. Keeping your arms relaxed, bend over from the waist and let the club hang down from your hands and arms. Pressure on the grip along with the triangle formed by the arms and shoulders allow you to hold on to the club in this manner. Static tension is created from gravity pulling the weight of the club downward. Elasticity of the arm muscles (like a rubber band) is offsetting the force of gravity, and that is what makes the arms feel like they are still relaxed. Admittedly, there is not much static tension in this example and it is only present when setting up to the ball, but what happens when the club is moving?

For this next exercise take a club and hold it in either hand. With your arm completely relaxed and just enough grip pressure to hold on to the club, start swinging it slowly back and forth. Go short distances at first, feeling the weight of the club. You should notice as you change direction, that there is not much pull from the club on your wrist. Now, increase the distance and swing the club somewhat faster. As you do this, you are going to experience two sensations. Since the inertia and centrifugal force of the clubhead are increasing, you are going to feel the weight of the club pulling on your arm. Additionally, those same physical properties are going to cause your wrist to hinge or bend as you change directions. This is called dynamic tension since it increases as you swing the club faster and faster. Ironically, the arm continues to feel relaxed even though the tension on it is increasing.

Ok, here’s where the fun begins. Grip the club with both hands and just enough pressure to hold on to it. Keep both arms totally relaxed. Start swinging the club back and forth as you did in the last exercise. That is, short distances at first and increasing the distance and speed as you go along. When swinging the club further and further back (or forward), the club is going to want to continue moving in the same direction and you are going to feel the weight of the club pulling on your wrists as you change direction. Let the weight of the club finish hinging your wrists for you. This is the feeling you want to achieve during the golf swing.

Actually, the club naturally pulls on your arms and wrists continually during the backswing. Dynamic tension is achieved by the fact that you are allowing the weight and centrifugal force of the club to pull on your relaxed arms. The arms and shoulders form a triangle. The pulling effect on two sides of the triangle (the arms) is what gives strength and stability to the triangle. Although the triangle formed by the arms and shoulders goes through some transitions during the golf swing, the dynamics are the same.

Reducing Tension Before Making a Golf Swing
Ideally, you want to eliminate or convert as much muscle tension as you can before making a golf swing. One way is to warm up with the exercises above. Another good exercise is to grab two clubs (one in each hand) and swing them back and forth. When doing this, try to keep them moving parallel to each other with your arms relaxed. In this way, you feel of the weight of the clubs and it prepares your arms to move at the same speed.

Muscle tension in the legs and feet can also affect your golf swing in an undesirable way. If they are tense when swinging the club, it will be difficult to turn properly (in either direction). Do some leg stretches during your warm up exercises to help relieve any tension in them.

Something you can do before addressing the ball is to stand with the club in your left hand and at your side, then release all the tension from head to toe. This takes but a few seconds, but pays big dividends during the golf swing. Also, you can get the feel of the grip at the same time. Take the time to learn what reduced muscle tension feels like and your swing will improve immensely.

Golf: Reducing Tension (part 1)

As long as I have been playing golf, I’ve heard and read that tension in the golf swing is a “shot killer.” I never understood how there could not be tension when we are told to keep a certain grip pressure, to keep our left arm straight in the backswing, to turn our hips back and then forward, to rotate our wrists one way then another, etc. All golf swing movements require some form of muscle strength (contraction). Muscle contraction translates to tension plain and simple.

Muscle Tension versus Static and Dynamic Tension
Here is an example of muscle tension. Holding on to a golf club requires that you have the strength in your hands to put pressure on the grip. Consequently, grip pressure creates tension in the hands and wrists. The more pressure, the more tension. Fortunately, this is a situation where you have the opportunity to reduce muscle tension by using less pressure. Ideally, we would like to reduce or eliminate as much muscle tension as possible throughout the entire golf swing.

If we can convert a certain amount of muscle tension into static or dynamic tension, we can start to understand what a relaxed swing feels like. Static and dynamic tension differs from muscle tension in that neither is related to muscle contraction. By taking advantage of muscle elasticity, a certain amount of muscle tension can be converted to static or dynamic tension. In part 2 of this subject I will give you some exercises that will let you feel the difference between muscle tension and static or dynamic tension.

The Demeanor of Tiger Woods

Last week Tiger Woods missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow after another weak showing. A few days before the Wells Fargo I was watching a golf tournament on the Golf Channel. It was the 2001 Players Championship that Tiger Woods won. After watching that tournament and the Wells Fargo, I thought that something seems to be different about Tiger between then and now. That is, something other than his playing ability. He has been through a lot with family issues and changes of coaches all of which, I am sure, has had a profound effect on him. I could not put my finger on it at first, but after I thought about it for a while I determined that it was his demeanor that was different.

The 2001 Players Championship was his 26th win. After struggling early in the week he came back with extraordinary shot making and putting skills to win. At that time his demeanor was the same as it was in every tournament. He was focused, determined, confident, composed, and unapproachable by the gallery during play (no eye contact or hand slapping between holes). I didn’t see him get too upset during that tournament like he has recently. Basically, his character was in tune with what he had to do to win.

Fast forward to the Wells Fargo and we see a completely different Tiger Woods. He smiled often and actually connected with the gallery including slapping hands as he walked to the next tee. He seemed much more relaxed and it actually looked like he was having fun out there. On the other hand, he missed several shots that would have been no trouble at all for him in the past. One example was the high fade iron shot, several of which got him into trouble. His touch around and on the greens also were not up to what we are used to seeing from him. I noticed several times as he was getting ready to take a shot that he would try to relieve the tension by taking a deep breath. This is uncharacteristic for him and it showed a lack of confidence.

Lately, Tiger has complained about “old patterns” reappearing when things are not going right. In other words he is blaming his old teachers and coaches for his current troubles on the course. The fact is, he won a lot of tournaments and a lot of money with those old patterns. Maybe his new coach, Sean Foley, has tried to change too much rather than to work on improving Tiger’s natural abilities.

I have never been much of a fan of Tiger Woods just because I never thought he was likable or treated those around him (on or off the course) with much respect. On the other hand, his record as a golfer speaks for itself. He will go down in history as one of the greatest that ever played the game. Just maybe he is starting to understand that the greatness of the game far out surpasses anyone that plays it. At least now, it looks like from the outside that he is having fun and is beginning to respect those around him. As far as getting his skill level up to the point where he can win and be dominant again, only time will tell.