Cause or Effect – What Are You Working On?
It’s always interesting meeting new clients for the first time who come along to the Academy wanting to improve their golf game. We see all types of golfers, professional to high handicap, young to not so young. We will always have an initial chat to gain some sort of history with their golf and what they would like to achieve during the lessons. During this conversation, many new clients will quote a phrase along the lines of ‘I know what I’m doing wrong but I can’t stop it’ or something similar. It sounds crazy doesn’t it? We have an unwanted physical move during our golf swing that we cannot stop even though we are in complete control of the club. It sounds crazy but it’s not, there is a reason for this.
One of the key fundamentals to golf coaching is to identify the original fault in the swing. That is to find the very first fault in the golf swing that will then create a chain of events from this point throughout the rest of the swing. This is crucial. This first fault influences everything from that point forward and working on improving anything further forward in the swing will only be trying to improve the effect of a fault rather than the fault itself which will have limited results at best.
To use a simple analogy, let’s say that a golfer has the perfect golf swing, flawless in everyway and repeats every shot without fail BUT has a ‘strong’ grip which has a tendency to close the clubface throughout the swing. With this perfect, repeatable swing apart from an incorrect grip causing a closed clubface he hits shot after shot starting left and going further left. Very quickly, the player will soon start to attempt to get the ball to go straight rather than left and crucially, without the knowledge of the faulty grip will most probably make a manipulation through the impact area to try to ‘hold’ the clubface square to the target. Unfortunately now the problems are increasing from a simple grip problem and he is now ruining his previously perfect golf swing by introducing a faulty move through impact in an attempt to hit the ball straight. His ‘compensation’ though the ball will help to stop the ball going left but will have a downside of inconsistency, as a compensation is rarely repeatable, as well as create a variable quality strike on the ball as he can no longer turn through the ball correctly when trying to hold the clubface square. All this, when a simple grip correction would have improved the clubface throughout the swing and enable the player to turn through the ball and hit the ball straight without any compensation whatsoever.
Coming back to ‘I know what I’m doing wrong but I can’t stop it’, the reason is that this is a compensation and is a conscious or sub-conscious move that is actually helping them to reduce the effects of an earlier fault. The key is to find the cause and not the effect.
Here I have illustrated four of the most common problems that are first time customers tell us about and what the actual fault could be.
Problem: ‘I lifted my head up’
This must be the most common phrase in golf and is heard on the course every single day of the year after a golfer has topped the ball. The answer however is not simply to watch the ball for longer or keep your head down! This is always a reaction to a faulty downswing position, normally a downswing which is too steep. If the club shaft is on front of your right shoulder on the downswing (image 1) then this is too far in front of the body and will cause the angle of the club head into the ball to be too steep resulting in deep divots and with a swing path heading left of the target also. A natural reaction to shallow this steep action is for the upper body to rise up in an attempt to make a more sweeping action through the ball and thus has the effect of the head lifting up. The fix is to shallow the plane of the swing both on the back swing and downswing. To get the feeling of this, have practice swings ‘baseball style’ with the club head two feet off the ground (image 2). This way the spine angle can remain consistent and the club can rotate around this on a shallower plane (image 3) without the need for the body to rise up.
Problem: ‘I keep bending my left arm at the top of the backswing’
This is another very common problem which is normally caused by a faulty grip. There are many leverage points in the golf swing with the angle between left arm and shaft being one of them. With a good grip the wrists can hinge whilst keeping a comfortably straight left arm (not rigidly straight). For the left wrist to have sufficient flexibility to hinge correctly the grip of the club should be placed both across the fingers and lower palm of the left hand (image 4). Too much across the palm only will tighten the left wrist, reducing hinge and increasing elbow hinge, folding the left arm. Try this, hold the club with your left hand only with an emphasis of placing the grip of the club mainly in the fingers. Now place the club at the top of the backswing still just using your left arm only. Can you get 90’ or more from left arm to shaft without bending your left arm? (image 5) If you can then you have a correct left hand grip. If your grip is too much in your palm of your hand you’ll notice a lack of wrist hinge which naturally puts strain on the elbow make the left arm fold. We’re after the grip more in the fingers to enable good wrist hinge and leverage without bending the left arm.
Problem: ‘I have a slice, particularly with my driver’
There are primarily two things that produce a slice and with the longer shaft and more vertical face angle of a driver will tend to exacerbate the problem. Those two things are the path of the club head through impact relative to the alignment of the clubface. In very simple terms, if the club head is travelling in a direction that is further left than the club face is aimed at impact then this will create a spin axis that produces a shot that will move from left to right (a fade or slice). There are many causes of this problem but the most common is for the body to stop turning on the backswing and allowing the arms to continue further back. This could simply because the body does not turn far enough or that the arms continue on their own creating an over swing. A full body turn behind the ball with a shorter arm swing on the way back (image 6) should help achieve and path into the ball that is more from the inside (image 7) and therefore improve the path to club face ratio. A club path that is further to the right than the club face is aiming at impact would normally create a draw and for most this should be the aim.
Problem: ‘I ‘release’ the club too early’
The undesirable characteristics of the early release can be a bit of a frustration for a lot of golfers. Picking the ball off the ground with little or no divot, high trajectory shots with no penetration and a lack of distance too. This is normally a grip problem which manifests itself into a weak (open) clubface. This in turn requires an early release in an attempt to square the clubface at impact but with the sacrifice of a downward strike and necessary compression on the golf ball to send it on a true trajectory and distance.
A good way to get the feeling of how a correctly struck iron shot should feel is to imitate what you would do if you had to hit a shot under the branches of a tree and what you would do differently in the set up and swing to help you achieve this. Hopefully, it would include placing the ball further back in the stance with the hands forward which has the effect of de-lofting the club face (image 8). This forward hand position should turn more knuckles over the top of the grip into a stronger position showing almost three knuckles (Image 9). The swing itself would normally have a shorter back swing with an emphasis on hitting down the ball to drive it out low along the ground. Many people are amazed at how far these improvised shots actually go. This is the answer to the early release, but just being a bit more diluted than the full blown ‘along the ground, under a tree’ version. The stronger, more de-lofted clubface will take away the need to flick the clubface square and enable you to hit down on the ball creating and ball-turf strike and achieving a lower, stronger ball flight with much more distance.
As a final thought, we often find that the original fault is often either in the set up or the initial move of the back swing which causes subsequent problems throughout the rest of the swing. If you feel you have a problem in your downswing, through impact or finishing position, it’s worth checking far earlier in the golf swing where the root cause may well be.
Steve Blacklee operates his own golf academy at The Golf Studio in Lower Kingswood, Surrey. For coaching enquiries contact Steve on 01737 833444 or firstname.lastname@example.org