This article explains a sample lesson I did this week. I want to show it to you because;
- The results were pretty good
- The fix was completely opposing to how most people would go about it
- Although the results were impressive, the change was really quite unimpressive
So, a player comes for a lesson off the back of a poor month of golf. They are complaining of hitting the ball both left and right, and also explained that they are twisting the club open at impact, causing the ball to shoot off to the right violently. This immediately (even before watching them hit) tells me what they are doing.
I set Trackman up and ask him to hit a bunch of shots (he has already been warming up for 15 minutes). I also filmed the swing for my own purposes – See below.
What would you do with this guy? It is very likely that most people would respond by
- Changing grip
- Get him to stand farther from the ball
- Change his backswing
- Change his steep plane
- Work on chicken wing
- Change the shut clubface
I did none of the above. I saw them all, and maybe in the future I would make tweaks to improve upon these positions. But I see a different hierarchy of importance than most people.
I started by asking the player where he thought he was hitting on the clubface; as with about 95% of people I teach, he didn’t have a clue. To me,
Improving a player’s concept and understanding of what is happening is the biggest long-term change you can offer a player
So, I sprayed some Dr Scholls on the clubface and just let him relay the info (that I already knew) back to me. And the info he relayed was that he was hitting every single ball out of the toe of the club.
After 10 shots, his strike pattern looked like this.
Pretty consistent for someone who isn’t consistent – the irony.
I also looked at the trackman numbers and saw that, although it was saying he had a square face at impact, it was much more likely that he was presenting it very closed, and that the toe strike was twisting it open violently (Trackman users must be able to interpret the numbers in this way).
Literally everywhere. Incredibly poor distance control.
Again, while most people would look for a mechanical reason and try to fix those mechanics, I went a different route. I placed a tee on the ground just outside the ball and asked him to hit both the ball and the tee while looking at the ball. This creates a temporary perturbation in the player’s perception (after time, perceptual adaptation kicks in and he won’t have to ‘try’ to hit the tee), allowing the change to take place.
By aiming for the tee, this would ensure the strike moved more heel wards as he would present the club COM farther from his feet
While he didn’t do this perfectly in the ten ball test, he achieved 5 tee strikes out of 10 attempts (his initial swing would have never hit the tee). The strike pattern on the clubface shifted about an inch more towards the centre of the clubface. Below are the results of this small improvement in club delivery (yellow 2 is new, white is old).
Still a couple of toe duffs in there, but we can see;
- Smash factor improved, indicating a more centered strike
- Distance improved
- Clubface looked more left (hence ball finished more left)
To the uneducated in Trackman number interpretation, it would look like we made the clubface worse, but the reality is that, due to the fact he was now striking closer to the sweet spot, the club was twisting open less at impact.
Change Number 2
Now, we wanted to create a better clubface position at impact. There were many options available for this – I could weaken his grip, I could change his wrist position at the top slightly. But, I also know Dustin Johnson plays with a similar looking position to this, and uses a very strong grip.
I opted for a different route. I got him to open the face slightly at address, and then grip the club as normal. I was also hoping that seeing the clubface open would get him to subconsciously swing more in that direction, having a knock on effect to the path numbers. We did another ten ball test, with the player opening the face at address and having one swing thought – clip the tee away (the one by the side of the ball).
Below are the results of this test.
Here we see a very consistent pattern – he happened to get a lot of centered strikes in this run with his focus on hitting the tee. However, he overdid the clubface thing a little (I told him I would rather see him over-do it than under-do it).
For the rest of the lesson, I deferred responsibility to the player, took a more back-seat role as a coach (only giving feedback when things went out of a certain acceptable boundary) and watched the player try to calibrate strike and clubface position, using feedback such as the tee and Dr Scholls spray (showing strike), and ball flight to help with clubface calibration.
I also showed him a routine that he could take out on the course which improved his preparation, concentration, locus of attention, feedback, concept (understanding and awareness of what is happening at impact) and, in some respects, his technique. All of these things are part of my “SIPFATS” system I present in the book “The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”. This routine is shown in the video below.
The Post Test
We then conducted (as I do in almost all of my lessons) a post-intervention test. Basically, we see if the changes during the lesson have helped create a difference. Below are the results of this test.
While not perfect, when compared to the initial pre-lesson test, we see
- A nice centered shot pattern
- A 0.3 increase in smash factor (purely down to improved strike location on face)
- An increase of 61 yards average carry
- More consistent carry distance
I know most people will scoff at this type of lesson – especially teaching professionals. I know what they will say. “It’s too simplistic”. “Where were the technical changes”? “It’s band-aid teaching”. “Why didn’t you change the plane/forces and torques/set-up/kinematic sequence etc?”
I’m probably going to get torn to shreds for putting a tee down on the ground and asking him to “Hit that”, and getting the player to open the face a few degrees at address. I’m happy for that to be the case – the vast majority of player walk out of a lesson with me having achieved improvements in performance (and learning), as well as an understanding of what is actually causing their poor shots.
Most people would identify this as a quick fix. On the contrary, I see it as more long term than a textbook technical change. By helping the player
- Understand what is happening to create the bad shot (the toe strike and closed face combo)
- Improving their awareness of it
- Unlocking their ability to change it
I am giving them very important tools/skills to be able to start coaching themselves and manage inevitable error occurring on the course/future. And, while most coaches would work from the outside in (technical improvement first, skill/perceptual changes last), I prefer to take the opposite route. I know from experience that, when a player has ingrained a deeper understanding of what their club and ball are doing at impact, technical refinements in the future can become much easier to do.
Ultimately, this ‘quick fix’ is more of a long term idea than changing his grip would ever be. I would put my career and reputation on the line to defend that.
But, isn’t it strange for the player to have to think like that?
A lot of people would note that it might be strange to try to divert your attention to a tee and not the ball. It’s not a natural way to hit a ball while thinking about an object next to it. Well, I have a couple of points to say about that.
This is a perceptual change. And while it may require a strange kind of focus at first, ultimately, our brains will undergo something called perceptual adaptation. It is a topic I will talk about at a later date, but it is safe to say that this strange way of thinking about strike will only have to be there in order to create the initial change. After time, the player may require to think less and less about striking the tee next to the ball, as their brain makes adjustments in order to match their perception-reality couplings. I often see this happen in the space of a lesson, sometimes it takes a few weeks.
Sometimes our reality doesn’t match our goal. Or brain will do its best to bring the two together, but only if you know what is happening. This is why using feedback, such as Dr Scholls footspray, is important.
As an example of this – when I initially learned how to play bunker shots, I had to divert my gaze and attempt to strike the sand behind the ball. However, after years of training, I no longer think like this. I just get into a bunker and my brain automatically hits the sand first. This is perceptual adaptation in action.
My second point is that, making a technical change and thinking about your backswing position is just as ‘strange’ and requires conscious effort to see the change. But, there is no guarantee that a player would improve strike location with a better backswing. Striking the tee pretty much guarantees he will be less toe-biased.
What about technique?
Technical refinements are definitely on my mind with this player. However, I have to look at the realities. How often does this player take lessons (once a year)? How much practice do they do? What change will create the biggest performance improvements for the least time/effort, while at the same time creating a long term benefit? I also have to look at the goals of the player – are they trying to make it on tour, or are they just happy to get it around the course without hitting toe shanks every second ball?
I pump all this info into my head, use my gut instinct from my thousands of hours of coaching, and come up with an answer.
And, as I said earlier, we can always make technical changes/refinements at a later date – after the player has improved their ability to control strike and face. And these technical changes would be much easier to make when a player has an improved strike quality.
Having key concepts, skills and awareness in place dramatically improves the ability of a player to make future technical changes, should you opt to go that route.
Also, a swing style/technical change may not have elicited any change in the strike location for the golfer. A change in grip, backswing etc may not only have left the player still hitting the toe of the club (because this is massively a perception issue), but an internal focus (focus on the body movement) would be
- Less likely to transfer to the game situation
- Likely cause co-ordination issues initially
- Take longer to ingrain
- Leave the player without any improvement in the key competencies (strike awareness, ability to change it etc)
Ultimately, a technical change may have left the player with the same issues, as well as disrupted their ability to create more impact awareness (an overly internal focus does that).
Take Home Notes
I hope this has given some insight into a different way of attacking the issue of improvement. It’s certainly not your typical lesson of changing backswing, sequence, grip, posture or where your club is at the top of your swing. In fact, I didn’t include a post-lesson swing video simply because there were no noticeable technical changes occurring.
It’s not a case of changing technique or not. It’s about when to do it, and the hierarchy of importance. To me, This player is lacking key competencies (awareness of face strike etc) which technique may not override. These core skills/competencies are things which everyone possesses and can be improved, they just need it unlocked. This is simply an example of how;
- A change in understanding
- A change in awareness
- A change in perception
- Improvements in club/ball presentation (even with no dramatic movement changes)
- Changes in attention (player used predominantly internal focus, we moved it to external)
Can yield some pretty significant results.
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Also, if you want to learn about using drills which can improve your results, like shown, without the need to re-vamp your entire swing, check out The Strike Plan.
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