By T.J. TOMASI
Mental images, the pictures you draw in your mind, let your muscles know what needs to be done when you make a golf swing. What you see on your mental screen helps you understand what you’re trying to do.
An image I often use is of a horse and rider moving away from a wall with one end of a 60-foot coil of rope tied to the saddle and the other end anchored securely to the wall. The horse gains speed and the rope rapidly uncoils until, in a bone-jarring tug, the rope goes taut and the horse stops dead in its tracks. As you can imagine, the rider is flung (released) from the saddle, continuing alone in the direction he and his horse were traveling only a fraction of a second before.
Now reverse the situation so that the horse and rider are approaching the wall at full gallop, and just as they get to the wall, the horse stops dead. Once again, our helpless rider continues on alone as he’s thrown over the wall.
In the first image, the wall represents your right leg, in the second, the wall is your left leg. The rider is your clubhead andhis separation from the horse causes the release of your clubhead through the hitting zone.
To get the feel for this two-wall swing, at first exaggerate the move by taking some swings where it feels like your right heel stays on the ground until it’s pulled off by your body turning up and into your follow-through. Feel as if, for a fraction of a second, you’re sitting on your right knee to start the downswing.
But there are two things to watch out for: Take care to keep both knees flexed, and make sure you transfer your weight to your left hip. What you want is to let your weight empty into your left hip joint while keeping your right heel down.
The Lob Shot
By T.J. TOMASI
Around the greens, it’s best to keep the ball on the ground whenever feasible because it’s easier to judge a rolling ball than a high flying one. Thus the lob — a pitch that’s high and soft with little roll — is the last shot you should use. Your strategy should be: “Putt it first; if you can’t putt it, chip it; if you can’t chip it, pitch it; and only when you have to, do you lob it.”
But even though the lob shot is the hardest to judge, there are some situations, such as playing over trouble (bunkers, water, etc.) to a tucked pin, where you need a high, soft shot.
The key is to make a silky, flowing swing, moving the clubface with the rotation of your body, absent any manipulation by your arms or hands. Since your body leads the way throughout your swing, your clubhead stays trapped behind you and therefore remains open through impact, allowing the bounce on the bottom of your sand wedge to slide gently under the ball as you swing to a full finish.
Since the lob shot stops primarily due to its high arc, position your ball just forward of center in your stance. Make sure the butt end of your golf club is in the mid-line of your body.
With your heels a little less than hip width apart, open your stance so your body is open to the target, anchoring the majority of your weight in your front hip joint and establishing it as the rotational center throughout your swing. Once your setup is complete, the operational word that governs your swing is rotation.
Start your swing by simply turning your chest away from the target so that everything moves away from the ball as a unit. Unlike the normal pitch shot, make sure to cock your wrists early; your mantra here is “low hands-high clubhead,” a condition that unlocks the loft of the clubface. Note that in executing the lob shot, there is a turn, but no weight shift.
Your downswing is characterized by the sweet surrender to gravity, a phrase I use to emphasize the absence of manipulation as you allow your clubhead to fall to the ball — this means (1) no lateral body motion, (2) keeping your head behind the ball, and (3) certainly no hitting with your hands. If you simply rotate your body around your front hip, your clubhead comes to impact with a slightly open face, perfect for a high, soft lob.
The lob shot requires a long backswing plus a long follow-through; think of it as “long to long.” But remember, your arms must move at a slow but constant pace with no bursts of power.
The tough part of the lob shot is convincing yourself that you can take such a long swing for such a short shot. To get your brain used to the length and nonviolence of the swing, practice hitting a lot of 10- to 20-yard lobs until you can produce the high, soft trajectory every time.
Let your head rotate
By T.J. TOMASI
Errors occur when your head slides past the ball toward the target during the golf swing, or when it moves too far off the ball away from the target. Either way it’s not good for consistency. Your head should rotate and float with the spine tilt, all the while staying in the middle of your shoulders.
Forget the advice to keep your head down. Your swing is made worse by trying to keep your head stock still, and it can cause injury.
You would think that with all the bad things this shibboleth (“Don’t move your head”) has caused, it would have lost its reputation by now, but I see a lot of beginners adhering to it, and some teachers actually teach it.
Tests show that the head floats in a good swing because under the stress of proper coil, it has to biomechanically. If it is not allowed to rotate, you will almost always be forced intoa correction, making it difficult to keep the club on plane.
So let your head float with your body turn.
How much depends on your body build. If you’re thin and very flexible, as many tour players are, the float will be slight. Medium builds demand a bit more float, andif you’re thick-chested and flexibility-challenged, your head float will be noticeable. It is the swing center, a point just below the chin, that must stay over the ball at impact, but everyone uses the head as a marker, perhaps because the head has ears and the swing center does not.
Success comes with balance
By T.J. TOMASI
The advice Rory McIlroy received that carried him to a record-setting U.S. Open win after his Masters collapse was to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable. But how? The answer was simple: Under intense pressure, he used the thought of hitting his balance point.
Balance is the self-organizing principle around which your golf swing is built. If you have the basic mechanics of grip, stance, posture, aim, alignment, etc., then all you have to do is turn your entire swing over to good balance, and the proper sequence will unfold.
Of course, you are in balance because you made a good swing, but there is another way to look at it: You make a good swing because you are in balance. I have found it to be very effective when a golfer learns his or her balance point at the finish of the swing, and then swings to this balance point.
Your goal is to become a golfing archaeologist, someone who can analyze the remains of his swing, i.e., the follow-through, to discover important information about what went on during the downswing and at impact. So learn the basics and then focus on hitting your balance point. You’ll find that relying on balance to get the job done while you swing is much more effective than thinking about swing mechanics.
Here’s a handy drill to help you find your balance point:
Close your eyes, make a swing and pose in your finish position for a slow count of three. Make sure to brush the ground at impact — it doesn’t count if you don’t brush. Open your eyes and check your feet, the curve of your body, your back knee (should be even with your forward knee and pointing at the target), and make certain that your belt buckle is facing the target. It should be your goal to nail this position for every swing, using your balance point as a magnet that pulls you into position time after time.
All together now
By T.J. Tomasi
Many golfers make a practice swing in which they shift their weight to the front leg at the same time they drop their arms to start the downswing. It’s a move I callthe smallest most important movein golf.
Because there is no ball in this practice swing, there is no hit instinct, so the forward swing of the arms helps to shift the weight simultaneously in a drop/shift motion. This is one of golf’s non-negotiables, and every good player does it.
But when the ball is there, things change. The arms move first, independent of the weight transfer. And with a head start toward impact, the arms beat the weight transfer, leaving a weak, slapping action in their wake.
What to do? Here is a drill that will help get things started down together from the top of your swing.
Looking in a mirror, swing to the top, then stop and pose. Check out your arms and feel the weight in your trail hip socket. Then shift your weight to your front side and drop your arms simultaneously. Stop when your lead arm points down your back leg and check that out. You should be able to lift your back foot off the ground. Use a 5-iron and a ball when you do this, but don’t actually hit the ball.
Do this 60 times a day for three weeks and you will deposit the move in your motor memory.
Eight ways to improve your putting
By T.J. TOMASI
Here are eight actions you can take that will improve your putting, and not one of them involves the stroke itself!
1. Take care of direction at address by standing behind the ball to pick out the line on which you want your putt to roll. You fix your direction with your aim, then concentrate on producing the distance with your stroke.
2. Be realistic in your expectations and don’t get mad or make continuous changes in your putting stroke just because you miss. Fifty percent of all the putts you miss are not your fault. These misses are due to imperfections of the green that you can’t always see, like footprints, spike marks, etc. Remember, the best putters in the world on perfect greens make about 50 percent from 8 feet.
3. For short putts where you can see into the hole, pick a spot on the cup liner and putt to that. This will increase your accuracy since you’re putting at a smaller target. Aim small, miss small.
4. On breaking putts where you can’t see the cup liner, aim to the break point, allowing for the pull of gravity down the slope.
Once you have determined where the putt begins its break to the hole, that should be your new target.
5. Stand on the arc of the putt, not on the target line, when you read a breaking putt.
6. Read all your putts from three vantage points: from behind the ball, from midway between the hole and your ball on the low side of the break, and from behind the cup.
7. When you read putts, look for the drainage patterns. The architect builds in slopes to route the water, and they also route your putts.
8. On breaking putts, visualize the ball going in the side door, as it does in the photos below.
Chip like a putt for control
BY T.J. TOMASI
If you’re having trouble chipping, try employing your putting stroke when you chip. This method allows your shot to hug the ground and take advantage of the accuracy of a rolling ball with no side spin.
The key to the chip is not to introduce any cocking or uncocking of the wrists. You chip with a movement of the shoulders, arms and hands together so that the butt of the club moves with the face of the club until after the golf ball is hit.
The image word to keep in mind is “staccato,” which describes the firm, chipping action where you trap the ball against the ground. Most good chippers of the ball hold the club very firmly, more firmly than in their regular swing, since they do not want their wrists to hinge.
Before you make your motion, you want to take a practice swing and actually clip the grass. It will measure your distance to the ball. I think you’ll find that this chip-like putting method is the most forgiving of the chipping methods because it has the fewest moving parts. It’s just straight back and through to the target.
Put your back into it
BY. T. J. TOMASI
The role of the downswing is to bring your arms and your club back in front of your chest at impact. They must move aggressively from behind and above you to in front of you in a very short time. Failure to get the arms front and center at impact is one of the most common mistakes made by every class of golfer, duffer and expert alike.
The correct concept involves “pulling” your arms down in front of you using the large muscles of your back and shoulders. You should feel as if there is a point just under your left shoulder blade (the opposite for left-handers) that is the center of this pulling action.
Note two things about this pulling action:
1. Full body repositioning occurs before this pulling begins.
2. The pulling is not done with the forearm and hands, a move that would leave the clubface open at impact and cause a slice. It’s done with a large muscle in the back called the latissimus dorsi.
Research conducted in the biomechanics lab at Penn State University studied muscle activity in the golf swing, primarily the left latissimus dorsi of the back (the lat), and the left pectoralis major of the chest (the pec). The left lat helps rotate your left arm counterclockwise, moving it down and across your chest. The left pec moves your left arm in the opposite direction, toward the midline of your body.
This action pulls the arms down toward the ground and closer to the body, allowing the maximum buildup of energy. As the pulling action of the back muscle subsides, the left pec becomes very active, reaching maximum activity just before impact.
This indicates that the role of the left pec in the downswing is to put the brakes on the left arm, slowing it down as it approaches the hitting area and in effect centering the arms and the club in front of the body.
The message is clear: For you to have an efficient golf swing, your left arm must initially speed up as it takes on the energy passed to it from your coil. Then it must decelerate near the halfway point in your downswing in order to pass its energy down the club shaft and into the clubhead at impact.
Thus the recommendation so often heard to “accelerate your arms through impact” is incorrect. By speeding up your arms during the second half of your downswing, you retain energy in the arms, preventing it from flowing into the clubhead.
This not only robs you of speed where it counts — at the ball — but because it would misposition the arms-and-club unit, it is no doubt responsible for many of the blocked shots and push slices that bedevil those who try this desperate maneuver.
In fact, speeding up the arms when they should be slowing down violates the principle of the COAM — the conservation of angular momentum, so essential for maximum power.
Take care of the takeaway
By T.J. Tomasi
The first motion you make in the golf swing, the takeaway, is critical. A mistake made here will cause other errors in your backswing and force you to try to make compensations on your downswing.
A common error made during the takeaway is to lift the clubhead immediately, with little or no chest turn, as you start your swing. This gets the club off-track so early that a solid hit is almost impossible.
Another problem occurs when you roll your hands and forearms, aiming the shaft to the right of the target by the end of the takeaway. This forces you to lift the club to reach the top of the backswing, destroying your coil and the path of your swing.
To start correctly, I suggest a drill with a board positioned right behind the ball, as I’m demonstrating in the top photo on the right. Your job is to push the board away as you start your backswing.
In the second photo I have completed the drill, and my clubhead is free to move up as I cock my wrists. I’m simply going to finish my backswing by continuing to move my chest, hands and arms together until the club is parallel to my stance line. From the position in this photo, I’m poised to complete my weight transfer and rotate into a coiled position at the top of the backswing.
By T.J. Tomasi
Most of the time, we think of the pitch shot as a high, arching shot with not much roll to it — a shot that stops shortly after it lands. The chip shot is the opposite; it runs most of the way to the hole.
But for maximum control when you have some green to work with, the best shot is a combo — the pitch/chip, a medium trajectory shot that spends half its time on the ground, half in the air. Most often this shot is used from close range when you have to carry a bit of tough terrain, land well into the green and run to the hole. To put a number to it, you’re five or so steps off the green.
If you do it correctly, you’ll find your hands never rise above waist high on the backswing for a short pitch/chip. But remember to swing your arms with a bit of body turn instead of just lifting them into position.
The key to the shot is your back elbow — it remains relatively straight (but not stiff) with only a slight bend. This allows your hands, arms and clubhead to stay low with not a lot of wrist cock. Experiment with the club you chose; since it depends on the height and how much run you want, it could be anywhere from a 9-iron to a sand wedge.
Weight Shift and Rotation
There’s no time in a short swing for a weight transfer, so your foot width is narrower than your hip width, and your weight stays in your front hip joint, where it settles naturally when you drop your front foot back.
But just because you’re not shifting doesn’t mean you should stand stone-still and just swing your arms up and down. Let your body rotate around your front hip axis as you swing the club.
An eye to dominance
By T.J. TOMASI
Since your visual system is a strong determiner of how your muscles move, your putting stroke will follow your eye alignment. In essence, you putt where you look, so it’s key to make sure that where you look is correct.
How you position your eyes at address affects where you see the hole. With your eyes lined up outside your aim line, you’ll miss a well-stroked putt to the left. With your eyes inside your aim line, you’ll miss to the right.
There are two adjustments you need to make for correct eye alignment:
1. An imaginary line connecting your eyes should be directly over the start line at address.
2. Your dominant eye should be directly over the ball.
You can determine your eye dominance with this method:
1. With both eyes open, look at an object about 20 feet away.
2. Raise a finger and line it up so that your finger is overlapping the object.
3. Now close one eye. If it looks like your finger “jumped” and it is no longer in line with the object, then the eye you closed is dominant.
Your dominant eye is the one that focuses on specific parts of the target while your other eye gathers information to help you determine distance and depth perception by locating objects surrounding your target as reference points. The brain then takes information from both eyes and fuses it together into a composite.
Basically, we guess where things are using our third eye, the “mind’s eye.” Most of the time it works out pretty well for locating large objects of interest like bears and bridges, but a 4 1/4-inch hole 30 feet away demands special procedures. And you can improve your “guess” dramatically if you’re set up correctly.
At address, square your shoulders and hips to the aim line, then bend forward from your hip sockets until your eyes are directly over the aim line. Now, making sure that your eyes are still over the target line, rotate your head just enough to position your dominant eye directly over the ball. Position the putter shaft in the middle of your body with the ball directly in front of the putter face.
To locate the target from this position, you need only rotate your head instead of disrupting your eye line by lifting your head, but be sure to return your eyes back to their original position before you putt.
STAY CENTERED FOR SOLID CONTACT
By T.J. Tomasi
A student came to me with a complaint that she was hitting way behind the ball with her irons. Not only was she hitting her irons fat, but also she was hitting low pull hooks with her driver. Needless to say, she was not a happy camper.
During the interview, one of the things she told me was that when she first started playing 10 years ago, her pro advised her she had to “stay behind the ball.” After a few swings, it was evident that she was trying to do just that. Her first move down was to throw her head/spine away from the target — her interpretation of staying behind the ball.
Too many golfers try to tilt their spine away from the target during the downswing to get behind the ball. On average, the human head weighs 10 pounds, so forcing it to hang over your back foot as you swing to the ball makes it difficult to keep your upper swing center (just under the throat) over the ball.
When you hang back, trying
to stay behind the ball, two problems threaten: (1) It’s hard to make a proper
weight transfer to your front hip joint, and (2) hanging back can promote a flip where your hands wrap around your body, sending
the ball wide of target.
In the photos below, I’m demonstrating correct spine control. I begin stacked at address, with my head and spine straight up. After impact I’ve moved aggressively to my left side and fired my core at
the target, but my swing center is essentially covering the ball.
How much you slide your swing center depends a lot on ball position — the farther back you play the ball, the less you move the hips laterally. Players who use a more forward ball placement move more laterally to cover the ball at impact. But look at my head in relation to the treetops behind me. Basically, the head stays while the hips go.
Ride a wave out of the sand
By T.J. TOMASI
Your ball is in the middle of a greenside bunker. Assuming that you have a decent lie in the sand, it’s time for a good, old-fashioned, garden-variety sand shot, where you open your stance, aim the clubface at the target, then swing down your open shoulder line and … most of the time, the average player who knows all this pulls the ball way left of the pin. Why is this mistake so common?
A lot of golf instruction either glosses over or completely ignores the one thing you really have to remember when you’re trying to hit a ball out of the sand: Always open the clubface before you finalize your grip on the club. If you take your grip first and then just roll your arms to the right to open the clubface, your arms will simply roll back to the left through impact, which will return the clubface to square, or even worse, close the face. Hence the pull.
Here’s how to avoid this problem. When you first grip your club in the bunker, assuming you are right-handed, turn your hands well to the left on the handle of your sand wedge. You literally want the thumb on your left hand to be sitting on the left side of the grip; then your right hand should come over the top of the handle and join the left as it normally would. Now, just turn your left thumb (and the handle of the club) back to the right so that it’s sitting in a normal position on the top of the club.
With your weight anchored on your left foot throughout the swing, use only upper-body rotation to move the club. Don’t allow your right forearm to finish on top of your left forearm, as you would in a normal swing. Let your chest swing the club back along your shoulder line and then simply continue this rotation through impact to a full, high finish.
The key, once again, is to not allow your forearms to rotate. The ball should ride up and out of the bunker on a wave of sand.