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Above all, remember: It’s precision, not power

 

I had two debates about the philosophy of golf last week. At the end of a very cold and dark Monday night one of my group challenged me about my assertion that the golf swing is simple.

“How can you say this is simple?”

This is my reply.

In order to play golf you have to do essentially two things. Generate some power, and deliver that power to where the ball is.

There are all kinds of ways of achieving this, but in order to be consistent enough not to be driven nuts you generally want to keep it simple. If you watch professional golf on telly at all, pay attention to these two things.

Number one: When they generate power (their back swing) notice how centered they stay. They take the club back many different ways, some more inside and flat, others more outside and upright, but they all stay very quiet at their core. They rotate around their spine. You don’t see their hips doing a whole lotta Elvis stuff. Their heads, for the most part, stay very level, though they do tend to slide backwards a little as they turn their shoulders.

Why is this so important? Well if you keep your power generation simple it makes it much easier to get back to the ball. One of the biggest errors made by analysts on television and in golf magazines is that when they talk about turning your shoulders to generate maximum power they fail to realize how this will be received by the viewer/reader. If players are told that they need to turn their shoulders 90 degrees from the set up position, they will attempt to do this whether they are built like Tiger Woods or Jabba the Hut. Tiger can rotate his shoulders that much without very much effort, whereas Jabba (a big hitter Jabba, but really wild) requires a fair bit more maneuvering, and a few key parts don’t always end up where they should. Elbows bending, hips gyrating, wrists flopping.

If your size or flexibility don’t allow you to achieve what you are told you should, as far as a back swing is concerned you often compensate by tilting, bending, sliding, or lurching. By trying to generate this extra power you generally just make it extremely difficult to return to your starting point with any regularity. As your doctor says, it is very good to be regular

So my advice to this student, who happened to have great restrictions placed upon him by a bad back, was turn your shoulders— but only to the point you feel you can no longer do it simply. When it feels like if you go any further it will take a great deal of effort, this is not a move likely to be easily repeated. Golf, remember, is not a game of power but a game of precision. If you have both, good for you. But if you have to choose between the two, ease off on the power until you can count on the precision.

So the gentleman was fine with this and understood and agreed with my back swing assessment. He felt, however, the down swing with the weight shift, and the pulling with the left, and the pushing with the right, and the un-cocking of the wrists, and all that jazz, was the hardest part to remember.

At this point I asked if he had played baseball in his glory days. Yes, in fact, he had, at quite a high level it turned out.

“So when you grew up playing baseball, how many times did you think about how you were swinging the bat?”

A moment of pondering.

“None”, came the reply.

“How many times did a coach ever tell you to shift your weight or un-cock your wrists?”

“Never.”

“Is it harder to hit a moving baseball with a round club or a stationary golf ball with a flat club?”

“Baseball.”

So let this be the second thing you notice when watching professional golf: Get the hell out of your way and let yourself swing the damned golf club.

The vast majority of golfers make great practice swings which proves they already know how to accomplish the task physically. They need someone to help them understand this and help them to allow the ball to get in the way of their abilities.

I have absolutely no problem getting students to grasp and understand the physics of the golf swing. Getting them to undergo the lobotomy so as to stop clogging up the brainwaves sometimes takes a little longer. (Now that the feds have legalized the marijuana plant my job should be a lot easier. The Mary Jane is for the students, not me, by the way.)

For those of you who have mastered the practice swing you are now on the same level of play as Tiger Woods, the mental game. You have to choose shots you have faith you can achieve and then let your swing happen.

Tiger just has more shots he is capable of hitting and, believe it or not, is more realistic and careful about which ones he tries. I’ve blathered on long enough about this topic that I can save the other debate for another week, though here’s the gist.

The other debate was with an older gentleman who came in looking for a particular training aid. He had decided he was going to start teaching golf and stated emphatically you could not teach the game without the use of this aid.

This was news to me since I’ve taught thousands upon thousands of lessons over the last 20 years and used this said aid for about six of them before I tossed it, because as many students found it as confusing as helpful. If there was one way to play golf and one teaching aid which would allow everyone to achieve this “way,” the sport would have died out before it left the Scottish fields being played with sticks and sheep dung.

It is the search for the way that works for you that makes this game so interesting. Like so many things in life, the voyage is the joy. You will never achieve your goal (if you do, quit right away), but as long as you are moving forward along the path the trip is worth it.

John Piccolo is the golf professional and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. e-mail your questions or comments to [email protected]

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