One of the challenges of the game, as many handicappers and pros will attest, is bringing your driving range game to the course. And I think the main reason for that is the nature of both venues. On the range, everything is the same: same lie, same terrain, same target, same time between shots, same swing, often, even, the same club, same location of each shot, same companion, namely yourself, alone, on every shot, and perhaps, most importantly, same swing for every shot. On the course, everything is different: different lie, different conditions, different natural obstacles, different man-made hazards, different clubs, different distances, different time between shots, different expectations, different swings required based on where the ball lies and what lies between you and your target, and, perhaps most importantly, different targets. The former is static golf: same everything. The latter is organic golf: different everything. On the course, the golfer must be adaptive, creative, flexible. On the range, the golfer finds a groove and stays there throughout the practice session.
Confronted with this dichotomy, golfers easily get confused having to deal with all the changing conditions on the course, and forget their fundamentals. They revert to a physically comfortable and mentally predictable default swing which often doesn’t work in conditions that are different from the range with its lack of variables. So what happens? By adding or deleting an element of the swing that wasn’t there before, we change the pace and rhythm of the swing. That inevitably destroys the integrity of what we might have attained at the range. We hit it fat. We hit it thin. We shank. We flub. We skull. We push. We pull. We stink.
I’ve thought long and hard about this, for my own sake, and for the sake of my readers. And here, from my experience, is what I’ve determined. On the range, we must develop a go-to swing that bears up to and adapts to the changing conditions on the course. Some of the fundamentals that have worked for me include:
* Finding a grip that has just enough pressure to hold the club firmly but that frees the wrists for their crucial work in the hitting area. Then, when found, choke up an inch or so to better control club into impact. This will take some experimenting since their are no cookie-cutter formulas for success here. It’s case by case, as we say in the social service field, of which I have been a practitioner for the past 40 years.
* At address, keep your weight on the inside of your feet, knees slightly bent, and the weight slightly favoring the balls of the feet. Keep your left arm (right for left handers) straight but not stiff or rigid.
* As the swing proceeds, bring the club straight back on the target line, picturing, as Ben Hogan advised, a pane of glass on which the club travels. This keeps the club on plane, and is a great image with which to use.
* As the club continues back, keep your feet firmly planted but with more weight shifting to the right. The head remains fixed where it was at address. The top of the backswing is a point where you cannot turn your shoulders without the left arm breaking at the elbow. If the left arm breaks and you continue with the backswing, you will break the integrity of the connection of the left arm with the core of your body and lose considerable power and consistency. This is where handicappers are most at risk for mis-hitting shots on the course. Hogan, in Five Lessons, corroborates this.
* Start the downswing by pulling down the butt of the club, continuing to keep the left arm straight and the head steady. Since you kept your weight on the inside of the right foot coming back, it, and your hips, will naturally move forward on the downswing. This will happen naturally so you do not have to consciously think about shifting your weight forward. I know there are differing opinions on starting the downswing, and it is a subject of hot debate, but the keyword here is “simple.” The last time I tried thinking about my hips turning I was screwing up the hula hoop back in the day. The lower body is an important part of the swing, but you don’t really need to think about it much. It will follow the hands and arms in split second sequence of the swing. Thinking about the hips during a very speedy
* Returning the club squarely at impact will also take care of itself if the head remains steady at this point and the left arm remains straight, joined by a straightened right arm.
*All full shots should be swung with the rhythm and pace of a 7-iron.
* If you haven’t decelerated at impact or chicken-winged your left arm, momentum should bring you to a complete follow through as high as your flexibility permits.
* Listen and watch for the sight and sound of a solidly hit golf ball.
And that’s essentially it for a simple, repeatable swing. The key swing thought is that imaginary pane of glass that you’ve figuratively poked your head through as Five Lessons illustrates. At the range, you should be picking different targets for just about every shot. This will require putting into effect one of Jack Nicklaus’s simple techniques, namely picking out a blade of grass, a stick, a leaf about 3-4 feet in front of your ball and on line with
your distant target. As he points out in Golf My Way, it’s much easier to aim at a closer target than one much farther away. Once you find the blade of grass, set your club face down facing it, then align your body accordingly: feet, hips, knees, and shoulders lined up a bit to the left of that grass blade, and thus to the far away target as well.
That last bit is particularly important for if the body is improperly aligned, the results will probably go awry. This is where the mind and body are most connected, for the body will try to compensate for the misalignment. What results is often a pull, a slice, or a pull hook. As the kid on the First Tee promo says, “You don’t want to do that.”
Good golf requires practicing the right fundamentals until your swing can hold up under on-course conditions. Try these suggestions and see if your game becomes more consistent at the range and especially during actual play.
Note: My book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness is now officially out in hardback, and available at booksellers and online. If you’ve already purchased the book (and I thank you deeply for that), I would request that you go to amazon.com and write a review of it, especially if you liked it. For those who haven’t yet purchased it, the book is a compilation of published and unpublished pieces. It does include a number of posts from this blog, revised for print–posts I will be removing from the archives in the coming days. Even for regular readers of this blog, the book will be a handy reference you can keep close by or in your e-reader. It also contains 25 high-quality color photos of golfers and golf courses near and afar. I invite you to consider the book for your library, and to gift others who you think might be interested.
Thanks so much.