Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Magic Move Should Be Your Magic Move

I have the secret to what may be the biggest difference between your swing and a pro's. It has to do with physics and your mind being out of synch with what your body is doing. Let me try to explain. If you get it, you will see amazing changes in your swing and I mean amazing. If the explanation confuses you, don't worry. Just try to exercise at the end and you'll see the results for yourself.

First, let's go over a bit of physics - in this case centrifugal and centripetal forces which are equal and opposite. Put a piece of string in roughly the center of a 12 inch dowel and then rotate the dowel quickly by putting it between your palms and rubbing them back and forth. What happens to the string. It will rise up to a point where it's at a 90 degree angle with the axis of the dowel. The point of attachment provides the centripetal force that offsets the centrifugal force created by the rapid rotation of the dowel. I hope this isn't confusing, but it's helpful to understand the concept. There's a bit of gravity involved, but it's not relevant to the concept. Let me try to explain it another way.

Imagine a baseball player swinging a bat to hit a ball. The force generated by the bat being forced away from the body, makes the bat want to swing on a plane perpendicular to the spine and bisecting the spine through the point where the shoulders attach. To swing the bat lower requires a force to be applied via the muscles in the arms to actually force the bat down. This is most noticeable when the swing speed is great enough to counteract the force of gravity on the arms and bat. Imagine doing this with a wiffle ball bat, it should be even more apparent.

Now imagine standing erect and swinging a golf club at shoulder level. How hard is it to keep the arms at a 90 degree angle with the spine. The faster you swing, the easier it is as this is where they naturally want to be (because of centripetal and centrifugal forces). If we could tee golf balls at shoulder height and hit them with baseball bats it would be easy to make a repetitive swing as centrifugal force would be working in our favor. And this is why hitting a golf ball at our feet is so difficult.

From the top of the backswing through to the top of the follow through, the faster you swing a golf club the more it wants to rise up to a point where the arms are perpendicular to the spine. In the real world this results in physical forces moving the club head at the bottom of the swing further away from the body. That explains why most amateur golfers setup with the golf ball squarely in the middle of the club face, but actually make contact toward the heel or even worse, hit the ball on the shaft - the dreaded SHANK. When most pros miss the center they usually hit more toward the toe. You'll see why that is when you try the exercise below. (Conversely, if you actively try to swing the club from inside to outside you will only make things worse.)

OK, let's pull this together and see what the easy fix is. This is where you have to overcome the problem of your mind feeling something in your swing that isn't really happening. First and foremost, from the top of the backswing the golfer has to actively pull the club in towards the body to overcome the centrifugal force that is trying to move it outwards at the bottom of the swing. This means you have to pull the hands in towards the body on the downswing. When you do this your mind is going to think that you are hitting the ball from the outside in. I'm not sure why this is, but I suppose it's because the mind reacts to the conscious effort to pull the hands toward the body, but doesn't respond to centrifugal force. Consider this for a moment; at the top of the backswing your hands are well behind the targetline - a line through the ball pointing directly at the target. At the top of the follow through your hands are also well behind this target line. Extend this concept further and you'll see they are also behind a line parallel to this that goes through your belt buckle. Therefore, you can pull your hands in as much as you like on the downswing and you'll always end up with an inside to inside swing with the point where your hands are farthest from your belt being the point where you hit the ball.

Even if you didn't follow the above, give this a try; make a swing with the thought that you are going to pull your hands to the inside starting at the top of the backswing. You'll be wonderfully surprised at the results, I'm positive. Your mind is going to tell you that you are swinging from outside to inside, but the ball flight is going to show you otherwise. If you understand this move and put it to work you are going to see some amazing results and do away with problems that have been plaguing you for years. My apologies to the physicists out there. If you can explain it better, please add your comments to the blog. If you have some pictures, I'm sure that would help the visual learners out there. Give it a try, you're going to be shocked even if you feel you're swinging outside in. Think about why the pros finish so much more to the left on an iron shot follow through than you do. Justin Leonard is a good example. I'm convinced this is part of the reason that Jim Furyk has such a loop in his swing. He is actually giving himself a running start at pulling his hands inside.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

If Only Mr. Wie Had Been Mr. Woods!

Unfortunately, we've had to witness the fizzling of Michelle Wie's career over the last two years. It's unfortunate because I don't believe it had to happen, regardless the injury. Though David Leadbetter has coached her, I don't think he's been involved with anything but her swing. He's too wise about professional golf to have allowed the blunders that took place in her career development.

Here's where the whole thing derailed, her father has little to no idea about professional golf or professional sports for that matter. You don't develop a kid into a superstar by having them jump over all the developmental stages that are necessary in a sport that requires physical, mental and emotional maturity. This isn't female gymnastics where you typically peak in your teens. The world's best golfers are all women.

Tiger Woods, the best ever, did not start playing the PGA Tour at age 16. Did Mr. Wie think his daughter was better than Tiger? That's the way it looks. He should have looked at the Earl Woods game book and then stolen it! Does anyone but Mr. Wie think that building on platform after platform isn't important in golf. Just this week at the Accenture World Match Play Championship, none other than Mr. Woods says his success in match play now has a lot to do with what he learned as a teenager playing in US Amateurs and having to come from behind to win. Ditto for college.

So why can't a teen phenom just jump over 2 or 3 steps and go right to the big time? Because it's a very difficult sport that requires lots of seasoning and the ensuing increase in maturity. Most sports in which the best in the world are adults require a long learning curve. Take the baseball system that starts with T-ball and goes through Babe Ruth League, college, summer leagues in places like Cape Cod and then the major league farm system. Golf is a game that requires physical maturity. It's a game where being off or on is the difference of one degree or one micro second. Try managing that when your hormones are raging and your body is changing by the week. I just caught a few shots of Michelle over the weekend at the LPGA tournament in Hawaii. Her swing is looser than it was two years ago, but you can also see her body has changed considerably. She's changing from a girl to a woman and that is going to require a lot of physical adaptation.

And then there's the whole issue of competition. When you play on the LPGA or PGA you are playing against people who play golf for a living. It's their job, they do it at least 8 hours a day. If you don't practice all the time you can't pull off the tough shots under pressure that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Michelle had a shot on Friday about 20 yards of the green, down an embankment. Her line was obscured by some tree limbs so that she had to keep it low. She didn't pull it off, which is not surprising. She's a freshman at a prestigious college, I'm sure that takes up a lot of the time that professionals like Annika and Lorena use to practice such shots.

When you compete with the best, how can anyone think you can do that without keeping the same conditioning and practice regimens that they do. Tiger has proved that point to every pro on tour. It's impossible for a kid in high school or even college to do that. College golf is a terrific platform to play against people who are in the same situation you are and be able to work on your competitive skills including your emotional game. Unfortunately, because Michelle is a 'pro' this opportunity has been taken away from her.

Regardless of her injuries last year, Michelle has shown that she needs all the conditioning that the golf 'farm' system could have given her. However, because of poor parental decision making she's barred from that. How can she go to college and compete with true full-time professionals when she still has so much growing - physically, mentally and emotionally - to do. She definitely has talent, I wonder where she'd be right now if she had been the daughter of Earl Woods?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Alpha Golf Driver Test

The folks at Alpha Golf have been kind enough to send me a driver to test. Never heard of Alpha? You'd know them if you followed long drive competition. In 2006 Alpha drivers won four of the major long drive tournaments against the likes of every big name stick you can think of. If you read a lot of golf articles, you may have seen their driver referred to as the 'best driver you've never heard of'. What I want to know is can a lessor known brand driver hit the ball just as far as the ones that do all the advertising, or maybe further?

I just received the Alpha V5. Having never even seen a picture of the club before it arrived, I was impressed to find one of the best looking drivers I've come across in a long time. I'm not a big fan of all the modern graphics and paint jobs on many of the new clubs. For a traditionalist, the V5 is a welcome return to a classy, elegant and understated look. There's nothing cheap about the looks of this club. I'd put it in a beauty contest with any club on the market! Call its look 'cool stealth'. This thing will definitely turn heads on the first tee. This is one club where you don't have to close your eyes when you hit it.

As soon as the weather warms up a bit in New England I'm going to put this club through the paces in a one person golf test. After all, this is what it finally comes down to for any of us. You go out and hit clubs, compare to what you have and decide if it's a go or not. Regardless of what reviewers say or golf club tests show, any club has to work for you. I figure the best and fairest way to do this is to take the club to an outdoor practice range and compare it against the club I'm currently using. Joe Simon of Alpha Golf swears I'll get an extra 20 yards - time will tell. To be fair, I'm planning on alternating between the Alpha V5 and my existing driver, hitting groups of five shots with each. By using different color coded golf balls I'll be able to walk out on the range and judge for myself the difference between each club. To make it even fairer, I'll try the same exercise on at least 5 different days.

No test is perfect, but I hope to get a true comparison between the two clubs and create some information you can add to your own experiences. Both clubs are set up the same way, are the same length, fitted with a firm shaft and have a 460cc head. I like my current driver so I'll be surprised, pleasantly, if the Alpha gives me more distance or greater control or both. So far it gets top marks for appearance.

One more thing, it came with the best head cover I've ever seen. It's not a sock or a zip or just plain open. It's a leather cover that uses magnets to close the seam on the underside. It's simple and foolproof and there's no struggling to get the cover off or on. It also looks great. Check out the head covers on their site. Regardless of the test results I'm going to get myself a head cover.

For now I'm praying for some warmer weather so I can begin the club test. Stay tuned as I'll blog my way through it.