Slot is supreme
By T.J. TOMASI
No rocket scientist will tell you ignition is the most important part of launching a rocket, yet it is ignition that gets the public’s attention. The same is true of the “ignition” of the golf ball — impact. But all the important work must already have been done by that point for the swing to be successful; impact is a result.
The closer you get to impact, the less chance you have of adjusting for error, so while impact is the point at which the flight information is dumped to the ball, it’s basically out of your control. The most important part of your swing is the slotting of the club because you can control how you arrive at this point. Slot the club correctly and you have to work hard to make a mistake at impact.
When your swing gets off, the first place you see its effects is in the transition from backswing to forward swing. The key is to make sure you give your club time to change directions and drop into the slot.
During the transition, your clubhead not only reverses its direction, but if you give it enough time, it will also drop down before it starts toward the target. This slight deepening of the clubhead just as you start down puts it in a perfect position to come at the ball from inside the target line, an approach that ensures a powerful striking angle.
Initially, instead of trying to focus on slotting at full swing speed, proceed in slow motion in front of a mirror. Seeing yourself slot the club as you tell yourself why it’s so important will speed learning.
Pose and repose
By T.J. TOMASI
How you finish your swing not only tells you about your last swing, but also helps you make the next swing better. It works this way: Hold your finish (pose) at the end of your swing, and if it’s not quite right, adjust your pose until your finish is perfect. Once you’re reposed, all you have to do is to reproduce your repose position on your next swing.
Check for these three elements in your finish:
- Ninety-five percent of your weight is in your lead hip.
- Your chest and right knee are facing the target.
- You’re up on your back toe, using your foot as a rudder for balance.
If you’re an inconsistent ball striker who is often out of balance at the end of your swing, you can benefit from the repose routine.
As an example, when your hands end too high and close enough to your head that you can almost look between your elbows, the momentum of the swing will pull you off balance. In this case, your swing needs to be more around your body with less shoulder tilt during both the backswing and the downswing.
The correction involves turning your shoulders on a flatter plane and reposing yourself with 95 percent of your weight on your left side and your hands outside your left shoulder.
Learning comes in stages
By T.J. TOMASI
Human motor learning — in this case, your golf swing — takes place in three stages. Stage I is when the body’s degrees of movement are frozen or limited to a very few in order to exert maximum control.
Anyone who has taught a beginning golfer is well familiar with Stage I: The golfer appears to be stiff, while using only the small muscles of the arms and hands to move the club. Some look at this as being a stage filled with error, but if you understand learning theory, it is a stage filled with the normal prerequisites for control necessary in any movement acquisition.
Stage II involves practice integrating other movement units into the swing so the degrees of freedom are unfrozen. As a result of this enhanced involvement of other parts of the body, learning proceeds as a much more coordinated activity.
In this stage, through the use of drills and cognitive intervention, the student learns the counterintuitive message that the golf swing occurs from the ground up, and that in order to satisfy this requirement, the degrees of freedom of various parts of the body must be integrated. In particular, the lower body is added to the equation.
Note that starting to learn the golf swing in Stage II would be a mistake because, even though the information is correct, the timing would be premature. You don’t want to skip Stage I, no matter how short it might be.
The last stage of learning requires what I call “selective amnesia,” the concept that golf is not played the same way it is learned. When a student has successfully completed Stages I and II, he or she must then turn the job of moving the club over to momentum.
Stage III, this final stage, is driven by the powerful concept of unconscious competence, and it is here that the mechanical and inertial properties of the movements themselves can be exploited, i.e., there is more “letting” and less “making” during the swing. By relying on momentum, control improves, precision increases, and movement becomes more fluid, faster and efficient.
Learning from experience
By T.J. TOMASI
How can you time your swing correctly when the time you have for the downswing is only about half a second and the command to make the downswing takes longer than that to execute? Shouldn’t you always be late for impact?
In the instruction classic “Search for the Perfect Swing,” researchers Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs placed golfers in a room with a single artificial light while they hit drives into a net. The golfers were then asked to stop the swing as soon as they saw a light turn off.
“Of all the many golfers tested,” wrote the authors, “not one could in any way alter his stroke when the light went off after a point just barely into the downswing. Nearly all could actually stop the shot if the light went out during the backswing.”
So the answer is at once genius and common sense — you guess.
To solve the problem of the “processing gap” and prevent you from always being late for impact, your brain creates a forward model of what is about to happen by using (1) your history, i.e. your past experience performing a downswing; (2) logic and common sense; (3) the current information about the scene collected through your senses and (4) a calculation of probabilities, ensuring that the most highly balanced response wins.
These four considerations produce a best-guess scenario that is then carried out. The player with the best guesses over time has the best outcomes.
This is why I say golf is a game of probabilities. Using all your training and preparation gives you a statistical edge that, given a large enough universe of attempts, makes you the best.
This is a long-term view of golf as a process in which both failure and success are points on the progress map.
Release the energy, not just the club.
By T.J. TOMASI
The key to power and accuracy is releasing the clubhead to the ball correctly. Energy is formed in the body, using the resistance of the ground and the body coil. This force is then multiplied by the correct use of levers, i.e., the lever formed by the fold in your trail elbow (90 degrees) and the lever put in place when you cock your wrists (90 degrees).
Once all this is in place, the energy produced must be delivered to the ball, a process called the “release” or “releasing the club.” It should really be called “releasing the energy.”
How it works
Because the swing is an inclined arc, the wrists release their 90-degree angle sideways to the ball. One of the most difficult things to do in golf is to allow this sidewinder release to happen without rolling the forearms prematurely toward the ball. “Patience” and “momentum” are the watchwords here, and if you try to help the process, energy leaks away like air from a punctured balloon.
But anatomy and physics are on your side if you will just rely on your friend momentum. When you release the wrists from the side, momentum softly nudges the two bones in your forearm (the ulna and radius) to roll over.
These two bones are responsible for rotation about the long axis of the forearm, and when your lead forearm turns palm toward the sky, the clubface closes. Thus it is the release that drives the rotation and not the rotation that releases the club — a huge difference if good shots are your thing!
Straight to power
By T.J. TOMASI
As a teacher, I look for certain “key to see” positions in my students’ swings that no functional golf swing can do without. Here are two of them:
First, I like to see a trail arm that is straight at the pre-finish position. This is just before the fold of the forearms that consummates the finish. Like an archeologist who learns valuable information from the remains of a long-past culture, you can learn a lot about the quality of your swing at impact from studying this key artifact.
In the first photo below, the tour player’s late, straight right arm shows how well he uses his torso. It is a sign that he has maintained the critical kinematic sequence that characterizes all good golf swings.
I chose this unusual view because it allows you to see how much he has kept his chest and shoulders moving through the ball. There is no way he could keep his right arm straight at this point if he didn’t rotate his upper body to the max.
Golfers who stop rotating through the ball force the arm to break at the elbow, ruining the shot. Take some video of your swing and check out your trail arm. If it’s bent in the pre-finish, you have a problem.
Next, I like to see the front leg straight at impact with the lead arm running directly down the leg.
Note also in the second photo that the player’s head is directly in the middle of his shoulders. The human head weighs about 10 pounds, and its role in balancing the body during a ballistic event like the golf swing is important. With his body balanced over the ball, he can use his core very effectively.
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.