The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Last week I wrote about how golf instruction has been more of a reactive profession, rather than a proactive one. It reacts to someones success and tries to incorporate that person’s technique into normal instruction. I used the example of Jack Nicklaus and his ” flying right elbow” at the top of his backswing. Today I am going to discuss things that some great players did that golf instruction has not incorporated in fundamental teaching.

Three of the all time greats Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Bobby Jones, all had this little quirk, where they turned their head to the right, so essentially they were only looking at the ball with only  their left eye. Despite these players great careers, this has never developed into something that the average player has been told to do. Maybe it should.

Two of the great faders of the golf ball, Lee Trevino and Paul Azinger hit these very controlled and highly successfull left to right shots, while using a very strong grip. Now we know how they did this, by developing swings that held on at the end and did not turn over the wrists. But any instruction book will talk about weakening your grip in order to move the ball from left to right. But maybe their method is easier.

I have mentioned this one before, but the great Hogan, another great fader of the ball,  used a closed stance for all his longer clubs down to the 5 iron.  The only time he squared his stance was for the 5 iron and for the more lofted clubs he began to open his stance. Golf instruction advocates a square stance, and to fade the ball, an open stance for all clubs.   The closed stance is recommended for hooking the ball. Maybe not.

All these areas, are things that need to be explored. There are other examples, but it is hard to explain sometimes, why some things are quickly picked up and incorporated in the teaching of golf, while other things are ignored or thought for some reason not to be important. Over the next few weeks, I am going to write about my last 2 years of playing, what I think is the most important part of the physical side of the game, and how all this ties in to keeping the mind and the body connected, which will be my main goal of 2014. Lets just hope I don’t lose my mind in process. 

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

With winter blazing away here in the Burgh, I am going to discuss golf instruction today, and what I see is one of its biggest problems. Has golf instruction been proactive or reactive. In other words has golf instruction come up with new ideas to help people play the game better or does it react to an individual’s succes and incorporate it as a proper way to play the game. Let me give an example when golf teaching reacted to a players success.

As you headed into the golf season of 1962, one of the basic fundementals of the golf swing, was that the right elbow should remain fairly close to your side at the top of the backswing. It was a given, that this was the only way you were going to be a consistant ball striker. In fact, golf instructors would term this.”the flying right elbow fault” and all the problems that it would cause. Then along came Jack Nicklaus and his quote flying left elbow. Many golf gurus felt that Jack’s elbow would keep him from being a truly great player. Even after winning the 1962 U.S. Open in Arnold Palmer’s backyard and the 63 Masters, golf experts would talk about that elbow when he missed the cut at the 63 U.S. Open. Naturally, as Nicklaus’s record became even greater, his flying left elbow now became an asset. The teaching world started saying that by allowing his elbow to get further from his side that this increased Jack’s arc and helped him create so much clubhead speed. The modification from this point on, was that it was all right for a player to let his right elbow get away from his side at the top of the swing, as long as his elbow was pointing to the ground and it returned to his side at the start of the downswing. However, is this something that the average golfer should strive to do? I am not too sure.

Now I am going to switch gears, and talk about who golf instructors don’t want you to emulate. Bob Ford, the well known pro at Oakmont Country Club, the sight of many USGA tournaments, wrote an instructional book, where he writes about the Uncle Charlie syndrome. We have all known Uncle Charlies. This is a player of any age but ususally around middle age or older, who for lack of a better term, does just about everything wrong when trying to hit a golf ball. He will have a poor grip, bad address position, and has a swing that ususally ends up with his left foot coming off the ground and winding up straight across from his right foot. However, Uncle Charley hits the ball pretty well, gets about 230 out of a drive, keeps the ball in play, has a pretty good short game and shoots between 80 and 85  consistantly and even breaks 80 once in awhile. What Mr Ford’s point is, that even though Uncle Charlie can do this, he is an exception and this is not the way to play golf, if you really want to get better.  But what if an “Uncle Charlie” won a tour event or even a major, and went on to a long and successful career on tour.  Now I know this might seem extreme, but would golf instruction find a way to put a good spin on letting your left foot come off the ground at the end of the golf swing. Food for thought. Next week I am going to discuss some subtle things that the great players have done, that for some reason golf instruction seems to ignore.

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Today’s blog will be about one of the all time greats Slammin Sammy Snead. If he had won one or two U.S. Opens, he probably would be in the discussion of the all time greatest golfers. Even with the Open blemish Snead is always mentioned in the top 5 or 6. His graceful swing was a thing of beauty and allowed him to win 3 Masters, 3 PGAs and a British Open on his only trip over there. Hogan also won the British on his only trip. It makes you wonder how many majors these two would have had if they had made the trip yearly like everyone does now. Even though Snead’s swing was graceful and powerful he did have some flaws. In the book The Venturi Analysis, here is Ken Venturi’s take on the Snead swing.

On strictly the technical side, Sam’s swing is not as classic as it looks. He sets up with his feet a little closed and the clubhead aiming slightly to the right of his target, then gets the ball onto target by delivering the club to it on a path a little outside than on which he took it back. This is a pull, and you probally know from experience that a pulled ball is a stronger more powerful shot than one hit with clubhead moving from in to out. Sam can make this move without hitting many shots off line to the left because he gets his right shoulder lower at impact than it was at address and because he clears his left hip a little more than ususal. Other golfers who swing this way might look a little jerky, but Sam does it smoothly and almost effortlessly.

Venturi also goes on to write that Snead benefitted from having longer arms than normal and being double jointed. Last week I wrote about how the average golfer will aim right of the target, and then make what I called a violent move over the top, but jerky will do, which results in a pulled shot. What I find interesting is that Venturi says the moves that Snead makes keeps him from missing the shot left. Nothing is ever said that aiming right, even if it is “slightly”, will cause him  to have to do something from missing the shot to the right. Sam Snead in the early sixties wrote 3 instuctional books. In none of those books does he acknowledge that he has that type of swing. He does talk about having a closed stance for the driver, but Hogan did the same thing for a fade with the driver. In fact, in all of Snead’s books he tells the reader that the best shot is the straight shot. When I teach beginners, and I ask them to aim at a target that is only about 50 yards away, about 80% will aim right of the targer, 10% will aim left, and 10% will be right at the target. So whats the point of all this. I am not too sure. I always thought that the reason most people aim right of the target is because they are to the side of the ball and that causes the illusion of aiming at the target. We have all felt the power of the slightly over the top swing and the increase distance it produces. So could aiming a little right of the target be a more natural way to play the game. I don’t know. Did Snead know he was aiming right. In other words did he have a good mind body connection, or was this just the way one of the greatest self taught golfers of all time, just happen to hit the ball.   We’ll never know. Next week I am going to discuss another great one, which will lead us to what I think is the biggest problem in golf instruction today.

The Goofy Game of Golf Searching for the Answer

Well, here we are on Super Bowl Sunday, and yes I will give my fearless prediction at the end of the blog. Last week I discussed what I called the biggest mind-body disconnect in the history of golf, at the 86 Masters. Today the subject will be a much more common disconnect that the average golfer makes. If you don’t buy into the problem that I am about to discuss, then I suggest you find a golf course where you can sit at a clubhouse that is directly behind the 1st or 10th tee and watch about 10 to 15 groups tee off. What you will see is what I consider one of the most common problems in trying to hit the golf ball at the target. The golfer aiming anywhere from 10 to 30 yards right of the targer. Then when making the swing, at the last minute there is a violent over the top move, which results in a shot that lands left of the target. So, what is going on here.

One assumption is that the player is not aware that he is aiming that far right. However, I have had two instances where trying to correct this, the player said ” I can’t believe that now I am aiming at the target, and the most famous quote which is heard many times, ” I just can’t do this. Maybe there are other players that are aware that they are aiming that far right and just try to make the correction with the swing. Now lets look at the possible results when starting at this position.

Make a good swing: The shot will end up the appropriate distance right of the hole

Make a good swing but make a roll of the wrists: This might create enough of a draw to get the ball on target

Make an over the top move with the upper body: This will either get the shot back on line or result in a shot that ends up left of the target.

Make an over the top move combined with an open clubface: this will result in a left to right shot that may get the shot back on line.

At the outset I make the assumption that most players are not aware that they are aiming that far right. Most of them will try to make a correction move anyway. So where does this come from. Some might argue that it comes from the subconscious mind and they may be right. I think it is the body trying to make the correction. If it was the subconscious mind, then I think the result would be consistantly better. This is the obvious mind-body disconnect. The mind thinks it is aiming at the target but in reality the body is aimed right of the target. In other words the mind has no idea what the body is doing. If the mind has no idea what body is doing at address, how is it going to know what the body is doing when it is in motion, consciously or subconsciously. However I still think this is open to debate. In order to correct this the mind and body have to stay connected. That is the problem to be solved. Next week I am going to write about one of the all time greats who made a career of aiming right but did he know it.

Now for the mandatory Super Bowl prediction. I think it is going to be a much lower scoring game that anticipated. Seattle 16 Denver 10. But I did not ask my body.