For many golfers, there comes a time when it becomes impossible to figure out this game yourself, and is necessary to have your swing checked by a professional. After a number of years, that time, for me, came a few days ago. I spent quite awhile asking around until I found a pro with whom I might relate. Turns out he was the guy at Bennett Valley, my local muni, who has greeted me often, by first name, over the last few years, which always impressed me. And, unbeknownst to me, he’d been observing my swing over those years as he taught others on the range. So, he was able to cut to the chase fairly quickly. After watching me for awhile, he said, “Steve, you have a beautiful swing, very athletic, but look where your body is aligned.” If only I read my own blog posts. I wrote about this months ago in a post entitled, Align-iron-ment. A subtle misalignment had crept into my golf swing like a fog slipping into Santa Cruz. Didn’t see it coming but as my hooking and pulling increased, I moved my body increasingly to the right to play for this result. Now the body is a wise instrument but this is not a good idea. I started coming over the top as I brought the club down from the top of the backswing, a compensatory move to account for the gross misalignment to the right.
Now my teacher, Jim Knego, is old-school. I didn’t know if he was a PGA pro or not (he is). Didn’t really matter. He had the experience to use nothing but his eyes to see what I was doing wrong. No computers. No video. No apps. And the only device I needed was one alignment rod, which could have just as well been a club from my bag. I imagine that’s all Jason Dufner uses on the range, given how accurate he was to win the PGA. The alignment rod is a great ball striker’s best friend. But that’s just for the range. On the course, you’re on your own. No bells. No whistles. Just your own eyes to see if you are lined up correctly.
The other thing Jim noticed was that the club face was pointed left at impact. He knew this by the direction of my divot. That’s why the divot is so important: It gives feedback about the quality of the swing. It tells you why the ball did what it did. “Hold the club off longer,” Jim instructed. How that translated is extend the clubhead out towards the target at impact. That keeps it square when the club makes contact with the ball. It also translates into keeping the clubhead pointing to the sky around midway through the backswing and midway through the follow through as the hands finally turn to the left. After about 50 years of playing this game, I finally learned a couple of key fundamentals that explains how to get to the proper position at impact. At least I didn’t die first. It’s never too late to learn but after about a million pages of book and magazine tips, that’s a tad ridiculous. Why did it have to take a muni teaching pro to enlighten me on this? I coulda’ been a contenda’.
Jim also had me widen my stance, saying that would help with my weight transfer. That would produce a balanced foundation to my swing, he said. I always thought a narrower stance would mean less distance for my weight to move to the left side, but, no, there goes another myth down the “Golf Tips and Techniques” tube.
With golf, as with many aspects of life, the body tends to seek out comfort zones like water taking the paths of least resistance and lowest flow. The older we get, the more gravity forces the body to compensate in not so productive ways. Once we become aware of this, we often have to fight hard to resist such compensations. With less flexibility, for example, I narrowed my stance, and quickened my move into the ball. I’m a fairly slow moving person and that quickness affected my rhythm and pace–and not in good golf ways.
Jim also noticed–and I’m not sure how–that I was over-thinking my swing. Too many swing thoughts were gumming up the works, translating to an impact position that was off-target, that results in more pushes and pulls. Hogan’s struggle with this almost pulverized his career, as he fought a hook that nearly drove him crazy. The problem with too much input in golf is that it never ends. Look at the golf magazines over time and you realize that like the internet, there’s no end to the amount of information a golf swing can require. And when you’re standing over the ball facing trees, creeks, lakes, wind–you name it–the experience becomes daunting, to say the least. That’s probably a major reason so many leave the game after they’ve had a taste of it. It is very much like life, and don’t most of us over-think that as well.
Jim was encouraging though, as most good teachers tend to be. And he left me with solid fundamentals to concentrate on. Oh, now that I think of that, concentration was another aspect of the game he covered after I mentioned that I tended to lose mine during the round at times. He knew I liked to walk while I played and he suggested I concentrate on the pace of my walking, especially late in the round when I tend to get tired and lazy. Do everything at the same pace, he said, and don’t vary this. You determine what that pace will be. Stick with it as you work your way through the round.
I’m off now to the range to work on what he taught me, since, with this game, without almost daily practice, I might forget some of it. But then again, if I do forget, I can always plunk down a few more bucks for another lesson. Jim will be there for me.
Who’s your pro?