There was a guy out of Austin, Texas, named Harvey Penick, who taught golf for over half a century. Every time he came up with a thought which helped a student get a better feel about how to swing a golf club he would write it down in his little red book. Over time it got pretty thick and cluttered. Getting up in years, he decided to share this book with a few people and they told him he should publish it and share all that knowledge with everyone who struggled to master this game. It ended up becoming one of the greatest selling sports books of all time. It’s really just a lot of common sense, but unfortunately common sense is in short supply in this industry, so this book was a great breath of fresh air.
When I teach, I always try to relate the movements of the golf swing to something the student is already familiar with. Sometimes it’s baseball, sometimes tennis. Even just the throwing motion. If the person has never really participated in other sports, however, this is sometimes more difficult. Harvey used an analogy of throwing a bucket of water to try to get his students to feel the golf swing. How you would rotate back and then in order to generate momentum, step into it with your lower body, and then finish it off by letting the arms fling the water in the direction you wanted it to go.
I use a variation of this when I come across people who can’t get the feeling of letting go, who are too tense and trying to guide the club and ball to where they want it to go. I put a golf ball in a range bucket and ask the student to set up in their golf stance and throw the ball out of the bucket towards a certain target. They look at me a little strangely at first but I’m used to that by now and then they give it a whirl. The flight of the ball will tell you exactly what you are doing if you know what to look for.
If you are right handed and are very tense, you will pull the bucket towards your body and up, and the ball will go to the left of where you were trying to throw it. The tighter you are the more up and to the left the ball will go. I have had some people who actually had the ball go totally behind them.
After a few tries it is very easy to see the cause and effect of your actions.
If you stay long and loose, and swing the bucket through your target, the ball will come out like a line drive, right where you are aiming. If you get looser but get your hands and elbows too involved, the ball will come out high and soft without much giddy-up.
When you get that line drive feeling, you have the feeling you’re looking for when swinging the club. Swinging through the spot where the ball is. Not at it. Not under it. Through it.
If you have a big back yard you can do this by flinging sticks as well. Hold a two- or three-foot stick like a golf club, take your back swing and when you swing forward try to let go and let the stick fly towards your target. Make sure you have lots of space, because I had a student try this on the range when it was empty early one morning and she ended up throwing it, (my club) about 30 yards diagonally backwards right about where your bedroom window would be. (She got the proper feeling after about three tosses.)
The further and straighter down your target line you can throw the stick the more the feeling of how you want to generate and deliver the power when swinging a golf club.
There’s a good trick for getting better feel for putting and chipping as well. If you have great difficulty with distance control when you putt and chip, try this one. Hold a ball in your hand and roll it (for putting) or toss it (for chipping) to your intended target. It will give you the feel of how little effort it takes to get the job done. (Most of you are doing way too much.) It gives you the feel of rhythm and soft hands.
If someone just tells you how to do something, it is often very difficult to comprehend. But if they can explain it or relate it to you by feeling it, and having you be able to understand and manipulate the results on your own, the learning sinks in more deeply. Reading this or that or being told to “swing like this” isn’t very helpful if you don’t understand why you should be swinging “like this.”
If you are trying to learn the game through reading or are taking lessons from someone who is telling you to swing this way or that because it is the “right way,” and you feel lost, give old Harvey’s book a read. It is simple to understand and broken up into short blurbs which makes it perfect for the lavatory.
As the summer reading season approaches here are a few more titles that stay away from the technical and get to the heart of the game of golf, which is the mental game. Pia Nilsson was Annika Sorenstam’s teacher and has a couple of great books on mental preparation. Anything by Bob Rotella is good, as is, “The Inner Game of Golf,” by Tim Gallwey. One of my favorites is “Quantum Golf,” by Kjell Enhager, and a friend recently lent me, “Zen in the Art of Archery,” which doesn’t mention golf at all but the philosophy of it applies just the same. Used bookshops are making a bit of a comeback. I always find something of interest at “The Write Bookshop,” in St. Catharines, or if you can get to a library before our non-reading leader closes them down, you might a few of them in there. Just don’t try to read them in a constituency office. Apparently they find that threatening. ♦
John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. Email your questions or comments to [email protected]