How to practice
By T.J. TOMASI
If you don’t practice, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll improve your golf. Most golfers don’t have the time to play a round every day. The average golfer is lucky to get out once every two weeks or so.
So how can you keep a semi-sharp edge with all this time off? Steal the odd 30 minutes once a week to practice, and if you do it right, you’ll see some positive results.
Practicing has six basic goals, and you can use them in any combination that seems good to you on a given day, depending on how much time you have or what type of mood you’re in. Just make sure to pursue one type at a time.
1. Warming up: Every practice session, even if it lasts only 10 minutes, should include some type of warm-up. One good exercise is to swing two clubs back and forth slowly to get loose — and the emphasis is on “slowly.”
2. Syncing fundamentals: No matter your level of play, you need to practice fundamentals like grip, stance and posture, then integrate them into a coherent whole so that when you think “fundamentals,” you think of them as a unit rather than individual items on a checklist. Sync the fundamentals by working on timing, i.e., a flow of fundamentals that blend to create a swing.
3. Target orientation: In this type of practice, you work on hitting shots to a designated target, focusing only on the target. Of course, prior to striking any ball, you should work through your entire pre-shot routine, including the very powerful element of visualization. The point here is that when you are target-hunting, there are no mechanical swing thoughts.
4. Practice as if you’re playing: Play a round of golf on the practice range, using your imagination to lay out the course. For each shot, go through your pre-shot routine, then hit the shots required given the situations you create in your mind.
5. Fault correction: This type of practice involves fixing a piece of your swing that’s broken, i.e., your grip is too weak, causing a slice, or you’re coming over-the-top and pulling the ball.
6. Hit balls because you like to: Many golfers like to hit balls just because it’s fun. Here you set no goals and there are no failures, just the enjoyment of hitting the ball and watching it fly.
Insider Takeaway: With all types of practice, the goal is to “achieve then leave” (ATL). Years ago, I was on the practice tee when Jack Nicklaus finished his round. With the crowd jostling for position to watch the great man practice, he hit only five shots with his 3-iron, then left. The mini-practice session occurred because during the round, he had hit a less-than-perfect 3-iron, and this was his ATL session.
The right address
By T.J. TOMASI
The term “setup” is a good one because that’s just what this portion of your pre-shot routine does — it sets up your whole swing. You may not have the athletic talent of a tour player once the swing starts (few do), but every golfer has the ability to set up like an expert, so there are no excuses when it comes to getting this part of your swing down pat.
Here, from bottom to top, are five checkpoints for your perfect setup. All references are in relation to the target line, that imaginary straight line connecting your ball and the target.
Your feet should be turned out about 25 degrees each (a quarter of a turn). This makes it easier to rotate your hips correctly as you swing.
The amount of flare depends on how flexible you are and the ball flight you want. High-flex golfers with swings that are too long should use much less back-foot flare, while slicers should de-flare the front foot. Lefty Steve Flesch in the photo below is about standard, with both feet flared the same.
The width of your stance is measured using your heels. Take your stance with a short iron and, without moving your feet, mark the position of your heels with two tees, then move away and check your width — the tees should be hip width apart. To match your hips and heels, use the outside rim of the hips and the middle of your heels.
Your stance widens in small increments as you use longer clubs, until with the driver, the heels are about shoulder width apart.
Your knee flex should match the knee bend of your normal walking stride just as your forward foot flattens on the ground. If you can see your shoelaces, you have too little flex; if you can’t see your toes, you have too much.
3. Hip Joints
The tilt of your upper body toward the ground ranges anywhere from 25 degrees to 35 degrees and is controlled by how much you bend from your hip joints. Notice that both the tour players in the photos bend from their hip joints and not their waists. When you bend from your waist, you deactivate your centers of rotation, so your hip joints lock up, forcing sliding instead of turning.
When you assume the correct address position, your abdomen is retracted both backward and upward so your fanny protrudes. To get the feeling, imagine that you’re about to sit on an above-the-waist, three-legged stool. The traditional image of a regular height stool causes too much knee bend.
The shoulder checkpoint features your arms hanging under your shoulders with your upper arms adhering lightly to your torso, as if they were stuck to the sides of your chest. You could open your hands and drop the club to the ground and your arms would hardly change their angle of hang.
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, it 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.
Insider Takeaway: Both photos show an overall setup position that is one of “springy readiness.” Run through each checkpoint from bottom to top every time you address the ball and in no time your setup will become automatic.
Rule of the thumb
By T.J. TOMASI
A common piece of advice to cure a slice is to increase the rotation of the forearms. Since forearm rotation closes the face, that is good advice, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do this.
The correct release mechanics are what I call the Sidewinder Release: The forearms rotate but do not initiate the release — that is the function of the wrists. As the lead wrist uncocks, the lead forearm begins to roll via momentum, and it is this combination — wrist release/forearm roll — that brings the clubface square.
The vectors of force both toward the ground and to the target produce the famous Hogan arch of the lead wrist, a slight bow that all good players have. Note that the arch is a result of what went before, not a cause in itself.
In order to make this unfolding sequence work, the grip must be fit to the task. Use too weak a grip and the face stays open, causing a slice; too strong a grip shuts down the face, leading to a hook.
And here we encounter another common piece of advice that is true but incomplete: Adjust the strength of the grip by using the knuckles as a guide. It is said that if you want to weaken the grip, you should rotate the hands counterclockwise until you can see only one knuckle on your lead hand. To summon the draw, look for three; if you can see two knuckles, it’s neutral.
This is nice and neat, but misleading. It’s not the knuckles that confer face rotation; it’s the lead thumb. If you arrange your grip so the shaft is between the thumb and the target, its leveraged position will shut the face. Place the thumb on top of the shaft and it will tend to leave the face open.
The purpose of the grip is to guarantee control of the club without inducing tension. When the hands are arranged correctly, no manipulations are necessary to return the clubface correctly at impact. A good golf grip activates the muscles you want to use in the golf swing, while an incorrect grip does just the opposite — it encourages use of the wrong muscles.
The sidewinder release
By T.J. TOMASI
How you release the clubhead to the ball is the key determiner of power and accuracy, yet it is one of the most misunderstood concepts in golf. Ask five teachers what they mean by “release,” and you’ll get 10 different answers — five initial answers and five reloads when they realize their first answer isn’t very good.
The process begins when you build up energy on the backswing through coiling. When you deliver the energy you’ve built up to the ball, it’s called the release.
There are three elements to a good release: what the torso does; what your forearms/elbows do; and what your wrists do. Here I’ll outline the role of the wrists.
At some point during the backswing, you need to set your wrists to create a 90-degree angle between your lead forearm and the shaft. This angle is a lever that will multiply the power at impact when it straightens out.
Your club at address forms an angle to the ground. A 6-iron sits at 60 degrees, while a driver is, say, 48 degrees. Your lead wrist cocks at roughly the angle of this shaft plane. Said another way: Your wrists set sideways vs. directly up and down.
And here is the big point: They release exactly as they set, sideways, as when you skip a stone.
Be careful with the analogy of pounding with a hammer to describe wrist cock because, while the wrist action is the same, the angle of attack is different. You hammer vertically, but hit a golf ball from the side, which is why I call it a “sidewinder” release, after the snake that moves sideways to go straight at its target.
One of the biggest mistakes is forcing the clubhead in a straight line to the ball, a route that works when chopping wood, but not when you swing a golf club. When you release sideways, let momentum be your friend by relaxing, because it is momentum that rotates the forearms, squaring up the clubface. If your forearms are frozen in tension, even momentum can’t help you.
Why practice makes perfect
By T.J. TOMASI
The practice swing is free, and if done correctly, it gives you two advantages: (1) it’s an instant pre-play — a pre-swing mulligan, and (2) it gives you a perfect prompt for your actual swing.
Located throughout your body are tiny sensors that report to your brain what is going on in their district — what the joints are doing, what’s happening in the stretch receptors in the muscles, how much force is being applied as you hold your golf posture, etc. For a brief time after you make any movement, a trace of it, in the form of electrical impulses, lingers in your sense memory.
Swing a weighted club and it leaves a trace in your sensory tracking system that makes your driver feel incredibly light. Likewise, a perfect practice swing leaves a trace that will remain long enough to cue up your real swing.
The key is to let the trace be the teacher. To extract maximum benefit from your rehearsal, the practice swing must be an exact replica of the swing you are about to make, and you must acknowledge its power to control your actual swing, then make a total commitment to it.
Most poor golfers fail to do either the physical or mental rehearsal correctly. Better golfers often perform the physical practice swing correctly, but not the mental commitment. The best golfers most often perform them both correctly, and so the full power of the trace as teacher is available to them on every shot.
THREE ELEMENTS OF A PERFECT REHEARSAL
First, always take the same number of rehearsal swings for every shot. Doing the same thing each time is what makes a routine routine.
Second, images cue motor responses, so fill your brain with the image of your shot by rehearsing your swing exactly as you see it in your mind.
Third, be certain that you rehearse at the same swing speed and tempo necessary to send the ball to the target.
Insider Takeaway: Don’t waste a practice swing by making a motion that doesn’t track exactly what you are about to do.
Balance From The Ground Up
By T.J. TOMASI
One important job your brain has is monitoring your balance. At the first sign that you’re falling, it will take corrective action to keep you upright.
This saves your body, but ruins your golf swing.
To stay down and through the ball, it helps to understand why you come up and out of the shot. Four basic strategies are employed by the balance system, depending on the severity of the balance disruption, and they’re activated from the ground up, i.e., feet first.
Ankle Strategy: The Sway
At address, your body is an inverted triangle balanced on ankles that serve as pivot points where even a small force, such as a poor distribution of weight, prompts a swaying motion to re-establish balance. In golf, you want to eliminate the body sway in favor of rotation.
Hip Strategy: The Hinge
If the imbalance is not corrected at the ankle level, the hips are called into play. When the base of support is fixed, as in the golf swing, the upper body uses the hips to regain balance by hinging or bending the body forward and back.
In golf, fat and thin shots are caused by just such a response: Your spine hinges toward (fat shot) or away from the ground (thin shot), depending on the initial imbalance cue.
Arms Strategy: The Flail
The next level of rebalance is the arms, which flail about in any direction that will stabilize your center of mass. When the arms thrust outward during the downswing, you’ll hit the ball on the heel of the club, and you’ll hit it off the toe when you pull your arms back toward your body.
When the only way to stay upright is to reposition the support base, you take a step in order to recover equilibrium. It’s called walking — losing your balance, then regaining it by stepping.
If your swing is so far off that you can’t keep your feet in place and hold your finish for a count of three, you must fix your balance problems before anything else.
Once your rebalance system is triggered, you have no choice but to obey, which is why your teacher can say “don’t lift your head” or “don’t dip down,” but you can’t stop doing it. Thus, the best way to deal with your balance recovery system is to be sure you don’t trigger it.
It all starts with your weight distribution at setup. Your weight should be distributed all the way from the balls of the feet backward to the heels. To make sure you distribute your weight correctly, simply curl your toes at address without rocking back on your heels.
The draw string
By T.J. TOMASI
Once you decide the ball flight you want (straight, draw or fade), you must put in place the combination of swing mechanics (what I call swing strings) that will produce that flight. The draw flies lower and is more penetrating in the wind than the other flight patterns. Also, it goes farther after it lands, resulting in more distance than the fade or the straight ball.
Whatever else you do to produce a draw, your clubface must be closed to the clubhead’s path at impact. How much depends on whether you want a baby draw that starts out, say, four yards to the right of target and curves back to the flag, or a big-boy curve that borders on a hook.
On a correctly hit draw, the curve occurs at the apex of the flight. The numbers might look like this: To curve the ball back to the target, your clubhead path might be 8 degrees inside-out to the target line, while your clubface is only 4 degrees inside-out.
That gives you a clubface that is 4 degrees closed to the clubhead’s path, and that spells draw.
Here are the mechanics of the draw string:
1. Aim to the right with your body; aim clubface to target.
2. De-flare front foot.
3. Flare the back foot.
4. Place ball back in stance at address.
5. Clubface points to the sky at top of swing.
6. Aggressive release.
7. Clubface points at the ground in follow-through.
By T.J. TOMASI
The hardest thing to do is hit the ball dead straight, and most often, even though it looks like the ball is flying straight, it’s hard to see what is actually happening. Most shots have some curve to them, but for this discussion, I’ll describe the combination of mechanics — the swing string — that produces a straight shot.
A golf shot flies straight because there is no sidespin on the ball, only backspin as it leaves the clubface. Think of it this way: The ball has a vertical and horizontal axis that looks like a plus sign: +. At impact, when the clubface is square to its path, there is no axis tilt (the plus sign remains perpendicular to the ground), so the ball rotates with pure backspin and the shot flies straight. Curve occurs when the clubface is not perpendicular to its path at impact, so the axis tilts to the left for a draw and to the right for a fade.
The three strings of swing mechanics all produce good golf shots, but each has a different ball flight — fade, draw or straight. The strings are made of the same seven building blocks: clubface position, ball position, foot flare, aim/alignment, hip action, release pattern/shaft lean and weight flow.
The swing string you need to make the no-tilt straight shot happen is:
 Clubface is square to its path and square at the top of the swing.
 Ball position is neutral; neither way up nor way back in your stance.
 Foot flare is medium, with both feet turned out the same degree.
 Aim/alignment: Clubface is aimed at the target; body is aligned parallel to target line.
 Hip action is at medium speed, between fast and slow.
 Release pattern and shaft lean: Trail elbow is slightly bent at impact; shaft is on plane in pre-finish position.
 Weight shift is a continuous flow from back foot to front foot during downswing.
Hitting a curve ball
By T.J. TOMASI
Assuming center contact is made on the clubface, the ball will fade or draw if the face is open or closed. Here’s how to hit the on-purpose fade.
The key to the curve is no surprise. Good players hit the shot they expect, and while it’s not always perfect, most often when they play for a fade, the ball fades.
Fred Couples is one of golf’s most prominent faders of the ball, and you can see in the left-hand photo below that the toe of his club is pointing at the ground — perfect position for a fade. But you don’t hit the ball at the top of the swing, so there are certain things you can do on the way down to ensure an open face at impact.
The first is a very aggressive rotation of the body to make sure the arms and clubface stay behind the body. Faders are spinners.
The second is a passive rotation of the forearms; faders are also blockers. And the third thing is tilting the shaft toward the target line in the follow-through. Faders have wide elbows.
One more thing you can do to ensure a fade: Align your body open to the target line and your clubface square to it. Faders aim left and swing left.
Insider Takeaway: You don’t try to cut the ball by swinging outside to in — that’s a big slice. The ball power fades because the face is open to a path that is moving left at impact.
By T.J. TOMASI
The tilt and turn is a post-impact continuation of the downswing motion that is absent in the swings of most high handicappers, especially those who have been taught to “stay down.” The correct motion after contact consists of a spiraling up of the upper body as it winds itself around the spine and the forward leg.
When you think rotation, you will rotate. When you think tilt, you will tilt. Neither is exactly correct, so be careful what you think.
If all you do is rotate your body, your club is dragged across the ball at impact, producing pulls and slices. If all you do is tilt, your clubhead comes to the ball too steeply, causing fat shots and shots that fly to the right of the target.
But if you use the tilt-and-turn motion, the final leg of which is the spiral up, you will stay down when you should be down, and unwrap upward into a full release when you should be up.
The unaccomplished golfer who, on bad advice, forces his body to stay down as he swings through the ball, fights the forces of physics, which seek to continue the rotation of a body in motion. Interrupting your rotation by holding yourself down causes flipping of the hands and a flicking of the arms. Instead of spiraling up, you fire and fall back.
In contrast, the good player allows his body, including his head, to unwind upward around his spine after impact, with no restrictions on any part, right side or left. In other words, he achieves a full body release through the ball, neither adding anything nor holding anything back.
To get the feeling of the spiral up, place a ball where impact occurs and start from your finish position. Now simply rewrap yourself to the top of your backswing, then swing back down again and hit the ball, concentrating on the post-impact feeling of the spiral up.
Go with the flow
By T.J. TOMASI
As you swing back to the ball from the top, your pelvis should be sliding toward the target because it leads the weight flow onto your front hip, then it fires toward the target. If you stop your core half-way to the ball, your swing sequence is disrupted, and it becomes impossible to keep your hands ahead of the clubhead, so you release the club early with a weak, slapping action.
You see this in golfers who “stop to hit,” but you don’t see it in good players, who keep their core moving through impact.
Your golf swing is a system for moving force around. Once the flow is in motion, everything that is moving should keep on moving until it can move no more.
How will you know if you keep everything moving in your swing? Make a video of your swing and look for two straight arms.
Both Arms Straight
There is only one time during the swing when both arms are straight, and that’s just after impact. It’s a key checkpoint you can use to determine the sequence and flow of your swing.
It’s impossible to keep your arms fully extended if your core has not done its job. It’s a good idea to pose with both arms straight in the post-impact position with the butt of the club pointing at your belly button. Then make some swings in slow motion, concentrating on keeping everything moving.
Timing is everything
By T.J. TOMASI
Brian, one of the tour players I work with, is a very long hitter. The Trackman system measured his swing speed at 126 mph, and he hits his tee ball well over 300 yards. We worked on his swing for about two years and then it was time for him to compete.
He has done well traveling the world, but it is very difficult to play your best golf in a different country every week. What gives tour players fits is not the motor memory of the swing — the “what” — it’s the “when,” the spot-on timing that arranges the what in a powerful sequence that just keeps repeating.
The danger is that problems with the when often cause tinkering. Brian reported he was not compressing the ball and wanted to know if he should make a change in his shoulder action. He sent a video of his swing, and here’s my email reply:
“No, it’s not the tilt of your shoulders — don’t mess with that. Your shoulders are perfect in that they angle at the ground to allow you to swing upright, which is key. If you swing more horizontal (flatter), it would trap the club behind you as when we first met, with big hooks and pushes the result.
“Have you been doing flex exercises? They shore up the key move where your upper body turns while the lower body stays quiet. This allows your weight to shift naturally, and it’s only near the top that the spine tilts a bit toward the target and down, as a natural response to coil. If you’re not doing stretching, you should resume.
“And it’s not keeping your head still, either. The concept is to stay tall until the top.
“It may be as simple as just thinking about keeping the spine angle/pelvis angle (about 20 degrees) until you arrive at the top, where the angle decreases slightly, then it drops again in a power dive back to 20 then to 0 at impact. Your drop is beautiful, but it must unfold correctly; too much drop too early means a mis-sequence. Work on staying tall, i.e., keeping posture, then your downswing just unfolds.
“Drill: Place a normal drinking straw in your mouth — or something you can see while you swing to monitor your lever. Don’t let the straw drop downward during the backswing. Hit a bunch of easy shots, keeping the straw level, then film yourself with the straw and send it to me.
The many faces of your slice
By T.J. TOMASI
Ninety percent of right-handed golfers aim to the right when they first take up the game, so they are forced to spin their shoulders in an attempt to pull the ball back to the target. The right-to-right slice starts to the right of your target and then inexorably moves more right until it disappears from sight. Of all the slices, this one can leave the playing field the quickest.
Since the ball is flying so far right, it’s an instinctive adjustment to open your stance, aiming to the left of the target. But now the ball starts way left and slices back toward the target (the baby boomer).
Aiming left works until you make a good release and square the face, resulting in a pull way left of target. To correct the pull, you introduce a chicken-winged front arm that opens the face at impact, causing a slice that finishes to the right of the target (the adult boomer).
To fix this, you aim even more left, employ more chicken wing, thus creating the mother of all boomerangs, the nuclear boomer, which starts way left and exits right of target. In a left-to-right crosswind it covers more territory than Lewis and Clark.
This natural evolution of your slice occurs over time, and it explains why there comes a time when you can no longer play your slice accurately because you’re not sure which slice you’re going to hit.
How to fix it
Your task is to start the ball right of target, then by making the changes below, spin the ball back toward target — a draw:
 Aim the clubface at the target, but swing to the right of target. Thus the face is closed to the path and you get a draw.
 Align hips and feet to the right with shoulders slightly closed. Remember, this only works if the face is aimed at the target.
 Move ball back in your stance two ball widths and tee it higher.
 Keep hands on the toe line during takeaway and make sure they are inside the clubhead.
 Starting back to the ball, loop the clubhead to the inside — feel as if you are tucking your hands in your right front pocket.
 Let you forearms rotate through impact to shut the face.