The learner’s grand SLAM
BY T.J. TOMASI
When you pay attention to a particular area of your body, your brain sets about building “transmission highways” of instruction to that body part, even in the presence of severe physical injury. That is how choreographer Tamar Rogoff taught Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, to dance ballet. She used a completely new pattern of motor movement that allowed him to “discover” individual body parts he had no command of before the intervention.
Using a similar approach, I have spent the last 20 years field-testing my Subsystem Learning and Modeling protocol (SLAM). In this protocol, the system (the golfer’s body) is separated into subsystems, each of which plays a role in “finding” and then training the key body parts necessary to make a golf swing. The club is simply a temporary prosthesis that responds to the movements of the body.
Golf requires solving a series of Point A (the ball) to Point B (the target) problems. Once the subsystems have been correctly modeled, your brain has the information it needs to solve each A-to-B problem. I call this “running software,” and when you are “running,” you are at peak learning efficiency.
Your brain SLAMs for a living
Understanding how each body part works and tracking each part from the start of the golf swing to the finish allows you to learn with full attention and full intention. The concept can be summed up in one sentence: “The golfer learns the subsystems, and the brain is responsible for coordinating them.”
This is what the human brain does for a living — it coordinates subsystems and solves problems.
There are five basic subsystems that must be modeled and trained: the head/spine, the shoulders, the arms/hands, the hips and the legs/feet. The role of the brain in coordinating these systems is the centerpiece.
In a series starting this week, we’ll visit each subsystem, describing how they operate in normal situations and how they move during your golf swing. First, the head.
Golf is a “head” game
At address, your head should be positioned in the middle of your shoulders with your chin held high in the proud position. If you let it rest on your chest, your chin blocks your shoulder turn.
The proud position requires you to “peep” at the ball with the bottom of your eyes rather than stare at it with a droopy head. (Note: Don’t wear bifocals when you play golf because they force you to drop your head to see the ball.)
During the swing
You hear it all the time, especially from TV announcers: “Look how still Freddy keeps his head,” or “Phil has made a career out of keeping his head still.” The trouble is, when you put the film in slow motion, the head moves all over the place. In the good golf swing, it has to move because of the way the human body is constructed and because of the laws of physics.
Studies of tour players by Dr. Rob Neal, a Ph.D. in biomechanics, show that the head moves away from the target from address to the top of the swing over a range of 3 to 4 1/2 inches, and that it drops or lifts 1 inch. Coming back to impact, the head moves 3 to 4 inches back toward the target (but never ahead of the ball), and drops or raises 2 to 1 1/2 inches.
The amount and type of head movement varies with the player. For example, Tiger Woods drops his head down a lot, while Justin Rose raises his head slightly. But the point here is that the head is allowed to move.
Thus to make a good pivot, your head must float with your spine, keeping its position in the middle of your shoulders to the top of your backswing. During the downswing, your head once again follows your spine until, through the hitting zone, the head moves away from the target as the spine tilts backward in response to the forces of the downswing.
Basically, your head-float will establish itself if you let it, but if you try to hold your head still, you’ll ruin your swing and may, in the process, give yourself a pain in the neck.
Second ball drill
The second ball drill trains your head to rotate softly through impact, i.e., the head doesn’t snap around, but quietly follows a smaller circle than that of the shoulders.
Take your normal stance with a teed-up 9-iron, then place a second ball about 20 inches in front of the teed ball and about 2 inches to the right of your target line. Now hit some balls while looking at the teed ball during the backswing and then gently rotating your head to look at the second ball during the downswing.
In addition to this drill, I recommend that to “find” your head, you make at least 60 repetitions a day of the correct head movement for 21 days, focusing solely on what your head is doing as you swing. Your reps should be done in front of a mirror with a club, but no actual ball striking.