You’ve heard the advice, I’m sure. “Stay down on it, Stay down on the shot!” And it really is important in achieving a consistently reliable swing. The other day on the course, I was not staying down and suffered the consequences–consistently lousy shots going this way and that. But before that round was over, I fixed it, and learned something in the process.
I did something that is not generally recommended: I made some swing changes in the middle of the round, not so much to minimize embarrassment, which I was feeling, but to be able to pass on to you, dear readers, some advice on doing just that: analyzing your present situation and acting immediately to correct it. Of course, if things are going well, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But often, with golf, things don’t go well and we become dejected, demoralized, and a bit lost, like a ship in rough waters without a rudder or mainsail. So, as humans have done since the time we became humans, we feel our discomfort and unease, and attempt to do something to correct it.
In my case, I determined that an old problem surfaced without my full awareness, and that problem had to do with my head position at impact. In a word, it was unstable. Occasionally I’d get it right but only out of shear luck and muscle memory of when I used to play this game without such incidents: when I was about 17. But at 74, and with some serious medical conditions to cope with, that just didn’t cut it.
I thought back to my trusted coach, Jim Knego, at Bennett Valley, who once told me I was moving my head some 8 inches off the ball during the backswing. “That can’t be,” I thought at the time. I was completely unaware of doing that. But Knego got it right: My head drifted back, followed by a compensation on the downswing to lift it up as I approached impact. Checking the pros on videos, I verified that the head remained steady on the backswing, and even dipped some at the start of the downswing, thus insuring the head and core stay down during the all-important approach towards the ball.
So, in mid-round the other day, after I’d been floundering about like that storm-battered ship, I began to dip my head, dropping my shoulders and core some as well, as I started the downswing after consciously keeping my head steadier on the backswing. Sure enough, I started making more solid contact, with straighter and farther shots with both irons and woods. I still retained my one-plane, Mo Norman-style swing.
That led to more fairways and greens hit, and more pars attained. My mood shifted to more confident, more hopeful, more enjoying the game. My physical discomforts were still there, but like the floaters in my eyes, my brain began to filter out the awareness of those discomforts. And despite cramps and fatigue, my play improved. Just by dipping my head a bit–not to the extreme–I was able to consciously stay down on the shot, improving my contact at impact, and adding some distance by using the ground more to stabilize my rotation into the ball.
To emphasize, this was a fix on my part. I wouldn’t advise this move for those who don’t have a problem with staying down through the shot. Tiger once used the move pretty prominently, and did pretty well with it, until he was criticized for it. Lorena Ochoa did it routinely to help her stay down….even on her putts! Lee Trevino’s homegrown swing had a grooved dip of the head at the start of the downswing. Tom Lehman has had a decided dip of his head throughout his career, and remains so today. Justin Thomas dips some as he goes hard at it. As does Rory. Harold Varner III, drops his head some as well, on his way to 300+ yard drives. And Bryson better not use this move or he might trigger an earthquake! Many pros, like Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, don’t dip and keep their heads steady throughout.
For higher handicap amateurs, though, it’s a different story. But a golf handicap is relative, and the need for a fix is common no matter what your skill level. It’s a matter of objective analysis, understanding what to do about the problem, and then experimenting via trial and error. There should be no unnecessary judgements, regrets, or shame with the need for a fix. Golf is a tough game, requiring adjustments and readjustments as life proceeds.
How do you determine if a fix is needed? There, a judgement does come into play. Do you like or dislike the flight of some of your shots? Tiger, after an amazing nine victories in the year 2000, including six in a row along with the U.S. and British Opens, and the PGA (plus the Tiger Slam after the following year’s Masters), decided to reconstruct his swing. He wanted to do even better. And he did, leading to 15 majors. For me, I just want to have more fun with the game. My competitive days are over. But I know the feeling of a solid golf shot and want to repeat it as much as possible, with more pars and birdies. Again, sort of similar to Tiger’s mindset in 2000, I just want to do better playing this great game in the time I have remaining on this earth.
What a tournament to welcome back professional golf to live TV! Packed with talent, these guys were sharp and ready to play. Players of all ages on Hogan’s Colonial, a classic, old-school course that required every shot in the bag, which included three-foot putts that ultimately decided the winner. Congrats to Daniel Berger, his third PGA win, who put his time in Covid isolation to good use and came into this event playing better than when he left. Second, in a playoff, was young Collin Morikawa, who had a heartbreaking 360 lip out of a three-foot putt to lose the match. But we’ll be seeing a lot more of this excellent player over the coming years. BTW, Berger is another pro who stays down on the ball by dipping his head some at the start of his downswing. Slow motion camera shots showed this quite graphically.
Other notes and observations:
A three-foot putt counts as one stroke on the card. Same as a 350 yard drive.
World No. 1 Rory McIIroy played like a dub carding 41 on the front nine of the last day of the Schwab. I’ll bet many of you were thinking, “Even I could’ve done that.”
Unlike many years ago, the only requirement for getting to the PGA Tour is skill. Abraham Ancer is Mexican. Daniel Berger is Jewish. Harold Varner III and Cameron Champ are African American. Tony Finau is Tongan-Samoan American, and Vijay Singh is Fijian…and so on. May the Tour continue on its path towards diversity.
This week’s event, also without in-person fans, and with a stellar field, is the RBC Heritage. Again, top 5 in the world and the majority are PGA winners…but still no Tiger. Should be another great one. And without fans, there’s no one there shouting “Mashed potatoes” or “Get in the hole!”
Phil Russell says
Stephen, great blog. Your knowledge of golf really helps. Staying down the shot is something that I do when I think of and for me the shot is usually pretty decent. When I don’t think of it on the down swing my shot is usually not great.
Also what do you think about a strong grip? Please do a blog on the grips. Which is best for a person who is still trying to achieve low 50s for 9 holes.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks very much, Phil. Glad you’re enjoying the blog. The tendency is to come off the shot too soon. Awareness is key which needs to be built into a pre-shot routine. Of course, if you’re like me, you need a pre-shot routine for the pre-shot routine!
As for a strong grip, I’ve been using one for most of my life. It encourages a draw, of course, but it can also cause an occasional duck hook. As you suggest, I’ll do a post on the grip, as it often gets overlooked in much instruction, especially the YouTube kind.
All the best, Phil.