How to make swing changes stick

Recent experience has taught me that you need two things to make swing changes stick.  Practice and time.  Now while these may seem self evident there is more going on behind the scenes in the subconscious mind than meets the eye.

We’ve all heard the phrases “Practice makes perfect” and “Perfect practice makes perfect”.  We all know that tour players have practiced all their lives to get the level they are at.  The thing is that they are not always practicing the same things in the same way.  They have built up enough skill level, that as they dial one thing in, they can work and address another part of the game.

What am I getting at?

As amateur golfers we don’t have the luxury to practice to practice like a tour player.  In fact, for most of us, we rarely get to practice.  I’ve tried to combat this by investing in some things that bring the practice home, and while that does address much of the problem, there is another part of practicing that has to be thought through as well.

That is, practicing the right things in the right way.

If you’ve had a lesson with a golf pro, they probably got you to do so some things that felt a little strange.  And if you’re like most golfers, you probably forgot about that feeling very shortly after and didn’t really practice it.  The end result is a wasted lesson, and no step forward in your progress.

I think part of the reason we forget to practice those things is because they feel so strange.  And when that happens, we are less likely to use it.  Combine that with very few practice sessions and it is virtually inevitable that you will forget what you learned.

How I’ve been practicing differently

I’ve been focusing on the things I have learned, and how strange they feel.  The thing I’ve realized is that I don’t necessarily need to be doing full swing. Initially what I start out doing is conditioning my body to get used to how that feels.  That position, swing thought etc, that feels strange, is often a big key to getting to the next level.  However, it’s hard to practice because it feels so strange.

Every day, I focus on something like that, that feels a bit strange.  It could be the forward press in putting, it could be the feeling of holding on to your angles and your lag, it could be a feeling that you don’t sway when you turn, or not laying off the club too much etc.

These things feel weird because they are not a part of your swing.  You need to get used to them, you need to get comfortable with them.

Making amazing progress

It’s amazing the things that happen once you start to integrate these things into your swing.  Not only do they become a part of your swing, but as you really integrate them, they take on their own strength.  They become a part of your swing that you can count on, that you can trust.  And when that happens, your swing changes and your results change.

So when your instructor gives you a piece that feels a bit strange, hold on to it, work with it, make it a part of you and you will be rewarded with a more solid game.

A half-day with my coach Eben Dennis

Eben Dennis

On Friday, May 21st I spent a half day with my coach Eben Dennis at The Links at Hiawatha Landing.

We started out at the driving range working wedges down to the driver.  During that part of the session we reviewed some of the principles of Power Feel Golf on which my game is currently based.  The main concepts we went over were how control and vision create dynamic balance.

Control is partly achieved by how you hold the club.  We found that I was actually holding the club with the face a bit closed to compensate for shots left out to the right.  Holding the club with the face square to the target felt a little bit strange but I understood that it was the right move to make, as I have been working on simplifying my swing and eliminating compensations.

Since the session I have been getting more and more comfortable holding the club with the club face square.  In fact I’ve learned that my fear of hitting it right is really unfounded.  With the club in this new position my ball flight has straightened out considerably.  My pitching has also improved tremendously.  I can easily launch it high and soft, something I had difficulty doing before.

The other part that we needed to work on was my hand strength.  By this I don’t mean how the Vs in my grip are pointing, I actually mean how lightly or strongly I’m holding on to the club.  It turns out that you can hold on to the club firmly while allowing the rest of your body and your arms to remain supple and loose. I was holding a lot of tension from my shoulders down, but as I learned to feel this new way of holding onto the club I felt more connected to it and more fluid.  This part of it is one of the aspects that has taken the longest to adjust to, but it is really making a big difference.

The other thing we spent a lot of time talking about was the vision.  The vision is not just about how you see the shots, but it is also about how your body moves.  When the body moves slow, the hands can move quick.  But when the body moves fast the hands move slow.  This is one of the best things that has happened to the way I understand the movements in the golf swing, and the vision has a lot to do with it.  It’s hard to explain so its something you need to learn about and feel.

The other thing I learned about the way my vision was moving, was that it moved initially backwards.  This was a result of being ball bound.  This also resulted in hitting down at the ball, instead of through it and out to the target.  Over the past few days I have learned how to maintain more of my focus out toward the target.  This keeps the vision from falling back and also helps to keep things in sync.  If all of this is making your head spin a bit, I would suggest you go to Power Feel Golf and read the book.  You can also buy the book, DVD and training grip from this website on the products page.

You can see we covered a lot of issues during that driving range session.  After that we headed to the chipping and putting area and worked a bit on short game.  All of the issues I was having in my full swing showed up there too.  But that’s good because I can work on them and as I iron these out, they will help my full swing too.

Implementing Eben’s ideas in chipping and pitching made a big difference.  It helped to improve my feel and distance control, as well as allowing me to control trajectory easily.  We hit a lot of pitches and I slowly started to get it.  My short game has improved but it’s not the strongest part of my game, however I now have a game plan to make it one of the best parts of it.

After the short game area we headed out to the golf course for 9 holes.  We started on the back nine of Hiawatha.  It was my first time playing a true links layout.  The only trees are around the perimeter of the property.  But there is plenty of high grass, undulating fairways, and undulating rough to make it a challenge.  The course is in fantastic shape, with fast firm greens.  This means that you need to be accurate and have excellent distance control.  Sometimes it took a number of tries to implement what Eben was teaching me correctly.  The reason is that I had a lot of chatter and conflicting swing thoughts.  These little conflicts would result in either indecision, or one style trying to overpower the other.  I had some bad habits that I was having a tough time letting go of.

I hit a few stellar shots that really excited me.  I also knew that the more I used what Eben was teaching me, and the less I let my old habits interfere, the better off that I would be.  We did not keep score for the 9 holes, but it wasn’t pretty although there were some highlights.

BTW if you have not taken a playing lesson, I highly recommend it.  It is helpful for transferring what you learn on the range to the golf course.  With your coach there, they can see what you are actually doing and make corrections there, or just say the right thing to get you back on track.

The Links at Hiawatha Landing has an amazing practice area and I wish that the courses near me where I play had something like this.  In addition to a generously large practice chipping and putting green,the practice area includes 3 full length holes.  Two of them are Par 3s of about 125 yards, and the other is a par 4 of about 330 yards.

This half-day spent with Eben was a highlight of my life as a golfer.  It is pretty amazing to spend some time with a teacher of Eben’s caliber.  He really knows the game, and knows how to simplify it.  I recently played some of the best golf I have all year.  I shot 77 at a very tough course up in the Albany, NY area, Orchard Creek in Altamont, NY.  It’s one of my favorite courses there, and it was my first time bre4aking 80.  The work I’ve done with Eben has given me a lot of confidence.  Take a look at Power Feel Golf, it can really simply the swing for you.

Today’s round with stats

What a beautiful day today.  It’s early November and I got to play a round with with a temperature in the mid 60s.

Still working on the stuff from my lesson and my ball striking was definitely off today.  It is difficult not to be mechanical when trying to apply what I’ve been working on since the lesson last week.

I hit a few really good shots, and I had an ok score, but it was difficult trusting my swing.  I’m sure that things will get better, and I have the whole winter to get my swing improved so having a mediocre round is not a big deal.  It was nice to be out there though.

Stats for the round:

7/14 Fairways (50%), 8/18 GIR (44%), 29 Putts (2.0 putts per green in regulation, 1.61 putts per green overall, 1.5 putts per green not in regulation), 29 Putts for an 80.  Did not hit into a single bunker.

Every green missed cost me .8 strokes.  That is a lot.  I should keep working on my ballstriking, but the short game will really help save strokes.  I need to dramatically reduce how many strokes a missed green costs me.  I also need to putt better when I get on the green in regulation.

Par 5 scoring:   +1

Par 3 scoring: E

Par 4 scoring: +7

Par 5s are my best opportunities for birdies.  Par 4s are where I really need to score.  Each par 3 cost me about .7 shots today.  That really needs work.

Lesson 11-5

Lesson 11/5/2009

I’ve decided that over the winter I’m going to get some lessons and refine my swing.  My goal is more consistency and accuracy.  I think I’m already long enough that I don’t need to worry about distance as much as accuracy.

We worked on a few different things today:

Backswing

On the backswing I need to get my swing a little flatter.  The swing thought is to get my hands over my right heel.  This puts me on a better plane.  At first it felt strange.  It felt really flat, but what it did was it gave me a more compact backswing.

Downswing

On the downswing I need to keep my right heel down on the ground longer.  It was kind of weird at first.  I need to do this because I have a tendency to almost stand up on my right toes and it throws my weight toward the ball.  When that happens, the only way for me to save the swing is to make an over the top move.  By keeping my right heel on the ground longer, it keeps my weight down, and back, and allows me to come from the inside more easily.  It also allows me to keep my spine angle intact.

The next thing is that starting the downswing I need to feel as if I’m bringing the handle straight down toward my right heel again.  This will also prevent an OTT move and allow me to come from the inside.

The Target

It seems that my target was the ball, or just behind the ball.  This is a bit problematic because it also encourages a steep movc into the ball.  The best target for me is approximately 3 or 4 inches in front of the ball and slightly on the arc outside of the ball.  Max gave me an drill to do where I have a ball in my normal position and a ball at the target, I set up to the normal ball, then just before I start my swing, I knock it out of the way and try to hit the other ball.  During the lesson it resulted in very solid contact.  I will work on this on the range before my next lesson.

Overall it was an excellent lesson.  I think I’ll be able to get a solid work done this winter. I have six months until the new season officially starts.  That’s a lot of time to make some strides.