One of the aspects of the golf swing that is accepted universally is the need to shift weight to right side on the backswing and to the left side on the downswing. (Apologies to the lefties, but just reverse everything in this post.)This is even more required with irons than with the driver, since in order to properly hit down on the ball first then the turf, the weight must transfer quickly to the left at the transition to the downswing, finishing almost 85-90 percent on the left in the follow through. With the driver, almost all instructors agree (Bobby Clampett being the exception) the clubhead is sweeping upward, never touching the turf before or after impact. The weight still shifts to the left, but the timing is not as critical as for irons. The former imparts backspin helping the ball stop when it hits the green. The latter encourages overspin causing the ball to roll farther when it, hopefully, hits the fairway. I believe this matter of weight shift causes more difficulty for handicap golfers than any other aspect of the swing.
What complicates it is the timing and sequence of the shift, something that takes intensive practice after skilled instruction to get it right and keep it right over time. Most get it right on the relatively leisurely backswing, although, even there, the weight can drift to the outside of the right foot, causing the problem of swaying on the backswing. But at the transition, when things really get moving, is when problems increase. That’s when the parasympathetic mind usually shuts down for a split second and the autonomic nervous system takes over. You might have a moment for a quick swing thought but after that the swing is happening so fast, it better be well trained and practiced to get the body to do what you want it to do. That lack of training and practice is the difference between consistent success or consistent failure when playing this daunting game. So when we see a touring pro on TV, we are seeing the culmination of a man or woman who has trained and practiced as hard as any professional who has prepared for a lifelong career.
So is there any hope for we handicappers who have not trained so seriously? I think there is, but our expectations have to be geared down to a realistic level. I was paired with a fellow once who, at 48, was determined to make it to the Champions Tour, and had determined the need to practice daily until the sweat dripped from his body. But it was obvious his goal far exceeded the reality of his age and his golf skills. Personally, after a serious illness, I had hoped to return to my skills and score before my illness, but I am seeing I need to modify that goal to more realistic levels.
That is not to say I can’t improve, perhaps gaining a bit more distance, accuracy, and chipping proficiency. But that will take a swallowing of a certain amount of pride and a recalculating of my previous desires. Buddhists don’t necessarily need to give up desire, as some think; They need to hold their desires before their eyes and ask, Is this really what I want, need, and can do at this point in my life? Mindful golf requires such questioning.
But back to the conundrum at hand! As I often say in these posts, golf is a game that often benefits from calculated trial, watching for any error, and then returning to the drawing board (the range), and making some adjustments. So to work on weight shift fundamentals and timing, you’ll need to concentrate on irons, and the 7 or 8 iron will do just fine. Again the driver is more forgiving around weight shift, but have it with you since it offers a good break from iron practice from time to time. Ideally, your range should have grass tees. That’s to allow you to monitor your divots which should measure about the length and width of a dollar bill, the depth of between one half and one inch, and come after the ball is struck. Some do strike irons without a divot, which is OK if the results are OK. But a divot indicates backspin and backspin is good to get a ball to stop after hitting the green. It also indicates proper ball height, which also helps a ball to settle, butterfly-like, on the green.
As a drill, get the feel of shifting weight without a club by turning your hips as if you were in a barrel and not wanting to hit the sides. Keep the head steady. With the hips turning back, the right leg is like a post keeping about the same position as at address with the knee slightly straightening. Your weight should shift to the instep of your right foot which helps prevent swaying and hitting the side of the imaginary barrel. Then get the feel of the hips turning back to the left and the weight shifting to the left with the left leg straightening some into the follow through. Once you get the literal “swing of things,” try it with a club, but not yet with a ball.
Now try it with a ball. I should mention here if your grass tees are beaten down to dirt, like mine often are, use a low tee with your iron. This simulates a good lie and offers practice for par 3s. This way you can still check the length, breadth and depth of the divot. Keep working with this, building your confidence and the look of your divots as described above. If you’re confined to a mat, then you’ll need to monitor your success by the height of your ball flight. If hit properly–down and through–the ball will rise up the club face and fly quite high. If you hit behind it, you’ll know that instantly since it will probably just dribble off the mat and go nowhere. That would indicate your weight shift was too slow at the start of the downswing. No problem: just make the adjustment on the next swing. If you hit it thin, the ball will line-drive or top somewhere. Here, you may have “come off” (a chicken wing left arm at impact will cause this as well) the shot and strike the ball but not the turf. Again, poorly timed weight shift may be the culprit. So even on a mat, you can learn by noting what the ball does. That’s a good rule of thumb: Sure, get a little mad, but cool down and just observe what the ball has done and learn from it. Make the necessary changes and try again. Hit a satisfying shot? Great. Try to repeat the fundamentals you just got right. Isn’t this fun (as in fun-damentals)?
OK, I’ll leave you to it, as they say in England and Australia. Hope this was of some help.
Finding my inner Nostradamus, my pick, Dustin Johnson, won the Tour Championship/Fed Ex Cup, taking home 15 million bucks. To paraphrase Feherty, I won nothing for that pick. Like I had said, this guy’s game is purring on all cylinders. It’s nice to see what golf looks like at the highest levels. I like the way he doesn’t get too flustered by lousy shots, nor too thrilled over the good ones. A good lesson to be learned there for us golf mortals.
In this unusual golf year, the U.S. Open will be played on 9/17-20 at Winged Foot, the site of Phil’s (“I’m such an idiot”) meltdown in ’06. Redemption time, Phil. Perhaps his last chance. I know. Not likely. Again, no in-person fans at this second major of the year due to the coronavirus. May this pandemic leave us soon.