October 25, 2011

Your First Step To A Path Of Ultimate Golf Game Improvement

With thirty-five years of experience as a teaching professional I have worked with some of the best golfers in the world as well as those that are just beginning.  My objective as a teacher is to provide a sound basis in the fundamentals and a sound progression to help make the game, as well as the learning process, more enjoyable for my students.

Of course we all want to play our best all the time, but golf is a challenging sport and I tell my students to make sure you play within your means.  By that I mean be able to realistically assess your abilities and the requirement of the shot at hand. The lure and the challenge of the game is to work to see how much we can improve.  As we improve, the game will become more rewarding and fun.

What I would like to share with you in my columns is how to play better, more enjoyable golf.  The first thing is make sure you play within your abilities — let’s don’t get hurt swinging the club.  We also want to make sure you score as well as possible.  They don’t draw pictures on scorecards for a reason, so let’s accept what the course and our swing gives us each round.  Next, let’s work on playing as smart a game as possible — good golf comes from good strategy.  Finally, golf is a game so let’s make sure you have fun.

I’m going to start with some basic fundamentals that every golfer probably learned once but over the course of time may have forgotten.  In some cases the natural routine of practice and playing may have changed elements of the swing causing bad results without the players even knowing the cause.

The Average Golfer does not have a lot of time to spend practicing, so it is very important to make the most effective and efficient use of the time they do have. In other words, let us take the guess work out of our practice and emphasize quality over quantity.

How often do you hear coaches, in all sports, when asked about a team or individual performance say we have to get back to the fundamentals? I do not know a better way of beginning your journey toward game improvement than by working on your pre-swing principles, which include hand position, aiming of the club face, aligning the body, and assuming the correct posture as well as the correct position of the golf back in relation to your stance.

When I work with my students, I always check all these fundamentals to make sure that there isn’t something simple that can be corrected.  But you can check these things yourself very easily by setting up a practice station with several aim and alignment sticks and a mirror.

Why is this so important? The more things you can do correctly and the better position you can get yourself into before you start the club in motion the better chance you give yourself of making the correct swing and having the ball travel to your target.

This is the preparatory phase of the game I see taken most for granted yet the greatest area of mistakes occur here. Your swing success will be reflective of this preparation that has preceded the swinging motion itself.

Our goal is to put ourselves into a position to encourage correct repetition and a more efficient swing!

                The good news is that you can set this practice station up on the practice tee or even in the house (dry land practice).  There is no excuse to not work on this.

It is interesting to see the tour players, those playing the game for a living, set up practice station.  Yet I see very few members at the club setting up a practice station. Could it be just a coincidence that all the best players set up a practice station when they are working on their games?

Here’s how to set up a practice station. First select your target and place your reference stick so it is looking down your target line. Next place another reference stick parallel to your line of play, for alignment of your body, about the distance apart that you would be standing with a golf club in your hand to address your ball. Then place another reference stick at a right angle to your alignment reference stick, and centered to represent ball position as well as impact position. This is your practice station.

It should look like this:

After you have the practice station set up, it is very easy to use.  Use the alignment sticks on the ground to guide you.  Aim line with clubface looking along line of play; body line with feet, knees, hips, and shoulders parallel to aim line; and ball position line perpendicular to aim and body line.

This alignment of body and club head along the lines of the aim line is crucial to your success in hitting a shot where you expect it to go.   It seems very elementary to think that a seasoned golfer could screw this up.  After all, you can step up to the ball, aim at the flag, swing the club and then watch it go straight — off line 20, 30 or 40 yards if your body and club are aimed wrong.

While attending a Champions Tour event, I was provided a chance to be on the practice tee, a great opportunity to see some of the best swings in golf up close, as well as to see friends.  I approached a friend on the tee to congratulate him on a top 3 finish in the previous tournament. The player thanked me, then lamented that he had mis-hit two shots at critical times during the round which he felt had cost him the tournament.

He indicated that he had been consistently missing shots to the right of his intended target.  Then out of nowhere he would pull a shot that would be out of play and cost him a shot or two. He asked me to watch him make a few swings.  The swing looked fine but I noticed the shot starting and landing thirty to forty feet to the right of his intended target.  In reality he was striking the shots exactly where he was aiming.  (He had not set up a practice station).

I laid clubs on the ground to show him where he was actually aiming.  He couldn’t believe he was set up so far to the right.  We the set up a practice station with the correct target line and had him assume his address position. His first reaction was that he felt like he was aiming thirty to forty feet to the left of his intended target.  I asked him to just make his normal swing and react to the target.   All of a sudden his shots were starting on line and going at the target, without him feeling as though he was making a swing compensation to get the ball to travel down his line of play.

Don’t let poor aim ruin a good swing. This is a simple but effective process to solve a significant problem.  Even the best players in the world can be careless and get away from their fundamentals.  Do not take the fundamentals for granted.

I know this is basic, but extremely important to scoring well.  Next time I will share with you some interesting thoughts on the grip and stance.  After you get aimed right, let’s make sure your body is positioned correctly to hit the best shot you can at that particular moment.

This article is written by Dick Drager
Dick Drager, Jr. is a professional golf instructor with over 35 years experience.  He began his career under the tutelage of Mr. Bob Toski.  His career has included twelve years as director and instructor with the Golf Digest Instruction Schools and nine years as an instructor at the Nicklaus / Flick Game Improvement Schools.

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