Advanced Ball Striking
It’s amazing how much of this game can be solved at address; and I’m not just talking about positioning. Simple understandings of correct weight-placement and leverage at address dictate how easily your body can stay balanced and clear effortlessly, making so much room for your mind to just stay focused on the target.
With that said, there are some advanced concepts that are worth understanding. These things need to become automatic, but to get there you need to experiment. There are no quick fixes; only diligent training.
Understanding Lag and Leverage
Grab a club and take your address position (if you haven’t studied the grip in detail yet, I recommend Steve Elkington’s Five Fundamentals of Golf. He had, by far, the best description of the grip that I’ve ever read).
From your address position, leverage can be thought of like this: Your leading hand pushes down slightly, your trailing hand pulls up slightly. If you’re gripping the club correctly, what’s left in the middle is a force that pulls the club squarely through impact and keeps your hands ahead of the ball throughout the swing. This naturally creates leverage and, subsequently, ball compression through impact.
If you extend this feeling up your arms, you can feel that sense of leverage between your two elbows. Keep your wrists loose and do small waggles with the club as if you’re doing a mini-swing and feel exactly how that leverage moves. Learn to feel leverage and learn to feel weight. Eg. If I want to hit a fade, my leading elbow will be closer to my body than my trailing elbow, which creates an outside-to-in swing plane. If I want to hit a draw, it’s the opposite. Do you feel the difference?
The hard part, of course, is maintaining that leverage throughout a rotational swing without trying to control it …as soon as you try and control, your accuracy and consistency go out the window :-) That’s why golf is a game of feel. Lose the feeling of leverage, that feeling of connection to your target and you’re toast.
This leverage is only effective if you can rotate easily and consistently around your spine; another thing that can become automatic if you set it up correctly at address (but get it wrong and the results lead to a disastrous, variable-filled swing nightmare).
As a general example of what to look for, if your coach was standing in front of you (eye to eye) while you stood at address, they should clearly see your trailing side sitting lower than your leading side, with a visible spine-tilt that shows you’ve got your weight behind the shot.
All great players seem to effortlessly rotate around a leading axis while keeping their weight behind the shot. Doing so takes away so many variables from the rotational swing and leads to more consistent shot patterns. But, getting this right at address can be harder than you’d think :-) You’ll know when you get it, because you’ll know at address (with a wry smile on your face) exactly where the ball is going.
Lag is a trickier topic to understand. Lag, to me, occurs from a rather complex movement of the hands while rotating around your spine. The club ends up lagging behind the hands, and when all that stored-up energy unfolds, you get an amazing release through impact that generates tremendous club-head speed.
How do you do it?
Throughout your backswing, about halfway back, your trailing hand needs to spiral up towards the sky (and in on itself, as if you were doing a bodybuilder’s bicep pose). If your hands don’t spiral up, you can end up with inconsistent shot patterns because your hands become trapped toward the top of your swing. Some people have explained this simply as “your hands spiraling up a tree behind you” …when you get explanations like that, you know it’s a movement that’s difficult to explain :-)
It’s actually a very natural and unforced feeling when you get it. This hand movement is what allows us to easily reach parallel and beyond at the top of our backswings. Unwinding this spiral is also important. This spiral should all unwind so that the club releases squarely through impact. If your swing is working effectively, this is not something you think about. You just feel it happening when you clear your hips.
Clearing the Hips
With that simple concept in mind, your body also has to allow your hands and arms the room to move, on plane. This was and still is, to me, the hardest move in golf (probably because I have years of failing to do this correctly). Your leading hip needs to clear properly through impact, and if you misunderstand a coach that tells you to simply “turn your hips”, you’re in for a long and tough journey ahead…
Well, when you tell a student to “turn their hips”, they tend to force it slightly (or not so slightly) and unwind like a corkscrew, upwards. They stand taller, their lower body moves closer to the ball, their hands get stuck because there’s no more room. Those same hands open up and the player slices it with little or no energy-transfer to the ball; it’s all lost with that spiral upwards. OR the player snaps their hands shut half-way down when they detect that “getting stuck” feeling and they naturally over-compensate (for a nice duck-hook).
However, when you learn to clear your hips correctly… well, you feel an amazing sense of freedom. Your arms suddenly have all this space to just fall into position and you suddenly realise where effortless power comes from (and why a 10-15 year old (thin-as-a-rake) Tiger Woods could generate so much club-head speed) :-)
So how do you do it?
Well, from the top of the backswing it feels like you’re attempting to sit on a chair behind you. For a moment, it’s a feeling of weightlessness. Your whole body gets shorter; it compresses. You’re using your center-of-mass/body-weight like a moving fulcrum. It’s an ‘odd’ feeling. That’s the best way I can explain it :-)
Suffice it to say it is not a natural move when your head is staring down at a golf ball. You need to search for this feeling. This same feeling of effortless power can be felt with simple chip shots, so start small. You’ll know it when you get it, because it’ll feel like a hot knife cutting through butter and the ball will rocket off the clubface with a specific “thwack” sound that only comes from a good release.
Learning the Art of Focus
The final and most important concept to learn is focus; target focus! Sounds easy right? ;-)
You have to free your mind and feel your way to that target, never losing that visualisation of your landing zone. When you focus, golf is an amazing and truly addictive human experience.
All this is easier said than done, but I’ve found the above concepts to have been my personal bottlenecks that held me back, and I see these same issues time and again when I observe players at the range.
If you’re struggling with focus, checkout the MindYourself iPhone app project. It exposes mental drills used by top Tour players and helps players prepare for tournament pressure.
Next time you’re hitting balls, forget anything technical and explore new ways of approaching this game. Open your mind, feel your center-of-mass, feel the slight leverage in your arms, feel the torque that’s happening on that golf club through your hands. All these things give you indications as to how that club will release through impact. At address you should have a wry smile on your face because you know, AT ADDRESS, exactly where the ball is going. Don’t think about it! Just feel it. Start small with chipping and work your way up to longer shots. It may open you up your game to some new possibilities.
Your weight distribution at address is incredibly important <- I can't emphasize this enough. Here are my thoughts on weight when at address... I bend my knees until I can clearly feel the weight of my butt sitting behind my knees ...that's the best way I can describe the feeling :-) This tells me that there's room for my hips to clear backwards when necessary, allowing room for my swing to move (and not get trapped).
I can also clearly feel my weight between the inside of my feet; a clear indication of my swing boundaries. I can stay balanced if my weight remains inside these boundaries. Over-extend, and I’ll be able to feel it.
Now at address, while I waggle, I can feel the weight of my upper body (the dominant side) and its role in the shot. This is a game of moving weight while maintaining leverage. I have a firm grip (not strong), loose wrists and the club-head feels like a weight attached to a rope. I can feel that club head. I don’t manipulate it, I’m just aware of its weight.
That’s about all I can think of. I’ll update this if/when I have some more info :-)