The Importance of The Basics
I'm a huge believer that a solid golf swing can be built by anyone who is reasonably physically able to move and who will take the time to do it. And, just like building a house, the golf swing is built on a solid foundation.
Ben Hogan dedicated the first two chapters of his best-seller, "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf" to learning how to develop a sound grip, and then a sound posture and set-up. I'm amazed by how many golfers I see who love the game but will not ... or at least have not ... taken the time to build this solid foundation. A friend once described a fellow workers hold on the golf club as "like he was holding a ham sandwich", which wasn't far from the truth for that guy.
And I see so many golfers who are so contorted and mis-aligned at address that they have no chance of making a sound and functional golf swing. Like any other athletic activity, the correct starting posture puts you in position to perform your best. We see it in football, baseball, tennis, archery, shooting ... every sporting activity has the optimum starting position as the foundation.
So here's my own personal story of how much attention you have to give to these basics.
ONE. I have been trying to modify my driver shot pattern from a slight power fade to a draw, simply because our course plays better with a right-to-left pattern off the tee. After working without success, I finally did the most basic thing – I have rotated my hold on the golf club slightly to the right – stronger – to help me close the face, and I have closed my stance slightly to promote a more inside approach to the ball. VOILA – I hit pretty draws the past two rounds with great consistency.
TWO. Two weeks ago, we played our Member-Member tournament. On Saturday, I was deadly, hitting six approach shots within 5 feet of the hole. I missed only one fairway and three greens. My partner and I rode that and his steady play to a five stroke lead after the first day.
But Sunday I was a different guy altogether. I broke my cardinal rule of never hitting balls without my alignment sticks in place. I hit skinky shot after skinky shot, losing my confidence quickly. In short, I stunk it up badly and we lost our lead, finishing second. I was no help to my partner at all. I went back out for a practice session one afternoon that week and discovered that I had just been setting up closed all day and that threw everything out of sync.
You only have an effective hitting area of about one square inch on the face of any golf club, so if you are even ½ inch off in your set-up and posture, you have cut that in half. Think about that.
The most learned skill you can master to give yourself a chance to play consistent golf ... is to learn how to set up with exact precision to each shot. That's the only way your learned and repeatable swing can be effective.
Think about that for a while. For those of you who are looking at lots of days inside before you hit the links again, you can learn a new and better grip and a solid and repeating set-up in the comfort of your own home!!!
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joe jones says:
Very valuable info. Obviously we all strive to have a swing that is as close to the perfect swing as possible but I have seen some of the strangest swings in the world that repeat every time and function beautifully. I always amazes me when I play with someone who is unorthodox in every way and they go out and shoot a very low number. Somehow they get the ball where it is supposed to go and put it in the hole with no problem.
So much energy is spent on the "swing" but really once you have set up to the ball, the quality of the swing has been largely predetermined. A bad swing is usually set in motion by a bad setup. Hogan described the feeling of knowing the shot's going to be good before taking the club back--I think that's something to strive for. Practicing something static like setup is hard though. I'll keep at it.
I have trouble with alignment often and it because after several holes I just get lazy in this area. It is so true though when I am aligned properly the "swing" is an after thought it comes together on its own.
The biggest lesson I learned this year is how easily your grip can revert to old bad habits, even if you think you're doing it correctly. My goal for next year is to make sure I'm set with my grip within the 1st 3 holes, rather than somewhere on the back 9 (which I can't tell you how many times I did that this year).
The golf channel just went over this nicely. Can't remember if it was Breed or that rrrrrubish Martin. It's all a blur.
I'm pretty sure that my set-up is contributing to my struggles off the tee, something I'm going to work on starting this weekend. But from the fairway, my misses seem to be linked more to my back swing - if I get the club back to the right place, I usually don't get lost in the downswing.
@GBogey, you're on to it! It sounds obvious, but the only purpose of the backswing is to put the club in a position where one can easily deliver it back to the ball. For me, if I can unhinge my right elbow from my top of the backswing position and meet the ball solidly, I know I'm in a good place.
And a solid consistent grip and setup is critical to getting that good backswing to happen on a regular basis.
Great article, Terry!
@Shallowface - video with the pro confirmed it yesterday. Setup was good with the occasional wandering grip, but real issue is taking the club back on the inside.
I have doubts about alignment aids/sticks. You set up with them and you get aligned with your target thanks to them being there.
Then you go out and play. The alignment sticks are gone and so your frame of reference has gone.
So how can they have helped you?
joe jones says:
It's called muscle memory. Practice a routine over and over and it becomes ingrained. Easy to repeat after that.
Or when you like up to the sticks you feel like you ate aimed 10 yards right. Then you think "maybe that is why I miss everything 10 yards left"
Also FYI for anyone. Home depot has plastic rods for yard sale signs. $2 each. If you don't want to pay $14 for 2 alignment rods from dicks. They are identical too
JasonFish has hit upon a far bigger point. Almost ANY kind of similarly made straight object will do and will be a lot cheaper! Chucking out an old tent? Keep some of the poles! :)
But back to the main point. Joe and Jason, my point remains, without the sticks there how can you be sure you're lining yourself up correctly?
You can't be sure. But it can help point out where your flaws are. Like I said before if you get up to the stick and notice you feel like you are aimed well right. Then on the course you start missing things left, its probably because you reverted back to aiming too far left (which seems natural to you).
Also you can use the sticks for more than alignment. I have a problem getting the club face square on my driver. So I take the 2 sticks make a field goal about 2-3' wide 6' in front of me and hit balls through it. You can place them in the ground to help your swing path. There are numerous things I've used them for.
@GBogey, so what did your pro suggest as a solution to the inside takeaway?
If my hands get too high at address, my club starts going inside, so I drop my hands a bit.
There are three things at address that are critical that I don't see mentioned much in most instruction.
Where the hands are in front of you.
How low/high they are.
And EYES parallel to your target line.
Nothing will mess you over worse than having the eyes on a bad line at address.
Nicklaus blames it for his three year slump in the late 60s.
And IMO it is the primary cause of the chipping and putting yips. You think you're lined up, but your eyes are misaligned (usually to the right). You swing along the line of your eyes,even though your body is lined up somewhere else, and you get a nasty little chunk, skull or shank, depending on when the hands fire. It doesn't take long until you don't want to hit one.
Lots of personal experience with his problem, and fortunately with the fix!
joe jones says:
Jason. I bought mine at Lowe's for just about the same price.
@Shallowface, I was doing a decent job of keeping the club parallel to the line until it was about waist high, but then was taking the club around instead of up as I turned. So he told me to at least feel like I was raising the club straight up - feels more awkward with a long club than an iron. The confusing part was this - taking to the inside has long been my fault, but it usually manifests itself in a hood / strong draw. For some reason the last several months when this happened it was causing me to go over the top in a manner such that half my misses were left hooks and half right slices, so I struggled to figure it out on my own.
Great subject Terry. I find that when I am hitting the ball poorly it is always due to poor alignment or posture. I am right handed, I naturally stand with my right foot closer to the line then my left foot. If I don't consciously move my foot back, my lower body is in the way I pick the club up too much, resulting in a OTT move. Also my stance gets too narrow and I sway to transfer my weight rather then turn, inconsistent contact. Lastly my posture gets poor, I hunch over resulting in my reaching for the ball, inconsistent. Was so eye-opening when I finally go a smart phone and videoed my self it was so obvious. Next time out I ensured before every shot I stood taller, feet,hips, legs and shoulders in parallel to target line. My only swing though was to swing "around" a bit more. I hit the ball very well, twelve greens and six shots inside of ten feet. I'm striving this season to remember the adjustments I need to make from my "natural" set-up to lower that index.
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