I revisit this as I remain puzzled by how well I do on the range compared to actual play on the course. Again, the question many of us ask, How can I bring my skills and performance on the range to the course? The answer involves a combination of training of the mind and the body, the two being entirely interconnected and symbiotic. First, it’s good to realize the physical differences between range practice and course play. All ranges are wide open with no obstacles to consider. Even the wind is often consistent during range time, given the location of the range. On the course, when you stand on the first tee, there are numerous obstacles including
trees, traps, water, varying wind, wet fairways, tight fairways with punishing rough or out of bounds on either side. These environmental obstacles get up into your head and dance around like ghosts. But they are not ghosts, are they? They are real and they grab our attention, creating a chain of apprehension that seeps into our sinews and neurons. We try to put them out of our minds. We try to not let them affect us. But because of the filtrate of our mental conditioning, we often succumb to those fears. On the range there are no such fears because there are no such obstacles.
To fully prepare oneself in taking your practice to the course, you have to be confident in your swing. Any doubt translates into a lack of confidence which is exacerbated by the many obstacles on the course. And that’s where the range is of most use to us. We can build our confidence by honing our fundamentals, which translates into good, consistent shots on the range. Of course, keeping the body in shape so it can withstand the rigors of hitting many balls is an important factor in this multi-tasking process of improving our game. Pains in the back or elbow or shoulder or knee do not bode well for the kind of serious practice needed to get your game into on-the-course shape. On the other hand, you work with what you have. When I’m injured, I hit half a small bucket one day and the rest the next. But I take my time with that bucket, working on alignment, ball position, grip, and head position, among others.
My aim is to simplify the process of properly swinging a golf club. Because the less I have to remember, the less burdened my brain gets when I set up to swing. Just like on the range…So what I’ve been working on recently are three key elements of the golf swing. Alignment, a straight left arm (for righties), and a relatively still head.
- Alignment. First I look at the target–first from behind the ball, then from my address position. I place the club behind the ball, pointing the club face at the target. Then I align my shoulders, hips, and feet parallel to the club face. Of course they point left of target because your body is left of target. The ball is positioned in the center of your stance for hybrids and irons; and a bit left of center for your driver and fairway woods. That’s it for addressing the ball and lining up properly.
- Forward press. It’s not mentioned much in the golf mags, websites, and in Golf Channel instructionals, but a forward press is the best way to get a body that’s motionless moving. What I do is what Rory used to do quite emphatically and now more subtly. When ready, I stiffen my left arm to get the engines revving. That does two things: it reminds me that the left arm must remain straight at the conclusion of the backswing, which determines the length of the backswing; and on the downswing, the left arm continues to remain straight through impact, until it bends well into the follow through.
- Steady head. The reason for the straight left arm is that it helps keep the head relatively steady throughout the backswing, downswing, at impact, and on towards part of the follow through until it naturally comes up and out of its original position. If you bend this forward arm as the swing nears the top of the backswing, the head will have a tendency to shift to the right, necessitating energy-wasting corrections for the rest of the swing. My teacher confirmed this for me.
Simple. Effective. Efficient. High, soaring irons; low, boring drives, getting plenty of roll at this time of year before the rains come (we in California hope!). But the key move that holds this whole archipelago together may surprise you, as it’s not often mentioned. It is none other than the straight forward arm, the element that maintains the measured swing. For though the golf club’s length is a constant, the human body, with all its elbows, wrists, shoulders, neck, and knees is a source of variance in its tendency to bend, flip, twist, dip, and doodle. For a right handed golfer, the left arm helps tame some of those pesky joints. The left arm is straight at address, straight
during and at the top of the backswing, straight coming down, straight at impact, and straight a foot or so after impact. It bends, finally, after it is no longer really needed, into the follow through.
Now, as we age, it gets harder to keep the left arm straight at the top of the backswing, particularly if we cannot accept the fact that at the top, with less flexibility to bring the shoulders to a 90 degree turn, we must shorten the swing to keep the left arm straight. As Hogan pointed out, if we break that arm at the elbow at the top, we destroy the integrity of a connected swing–the element that helps insure a solid hit at impact. The late, great Arnold Palmer is a good example of a pro who could accept this fact, and who consequently shortened his backswing as he aged, keeping his left arm straight through impact and somewhat beyond. Arnold’s distance decreased, of course, as he aged but he continued to hit the ball solidly “on the screws.” As for what starts the downswing, I contend it’s weight shift, however you accomplish it in the context of a steady head, straight forward arm, and a firm left side. The hips will follow suit. I wouldn’t concentrate much on them. There are enough hip replacements in this world.
So, sure, do your gym work to maintain, or increase, flexibility. You want as much distance and accuracy in this game as your body will allow. But if you begin to notice your forward arm bending some at the top, consider shortening your swing to a point where that arm remains straight in order to continue to make solid contact at impact. Today’s equipment will help compensate for any reduction in swing speed and any resultant loss in distance and accuracy. You just have to come to terms with the effects aging has on your body’s decreasing flexibility.
So when tackling the challenges of the course, keep that straight left arm as your main focus and swing thought, and let solid contact be your bellwether.
Congratulations to the American Ryder Cup team. With their backs to the wall, the boys kept their focus, producing a gutsy, decisive win over a European team, overweighted with untried rookies and a couple of veterans well past their prime.
Looking for a good golf read? Consider my book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness.