Teacher Talk

Teacher Talk

Jack Nicklaus once said, “A strong grip, a weak swing”. There is no doubt Jack’s grip was considered to be neutral leaning toward weak. To this day I can’t say I agree with Jack as we have witnessed countless players reach the highest levels of competitive golf whilst employing a strong grip such as Paul Azinger, Fred Couples (top hand),David Duval and Zach Johnson to name a few.

This is not to say a neutral grip is not ideal but is it a prerequisite to play good golf? I don’t believe it is and therefore it should be considered an option in the same way overlap, interlock, ten-finger, double overlap (Jim Furyk), reverse overlap (Steve Jones), intermesh (Greg Norman) and countless other finger formations are chosen by a variety of world class players.

If the orientation of our hands and fingers on the club offer many variations then what should we as instructors be standardizing when teaching an EFFECTIVE grip to our students? Firstly let’s get one thing out of the way. A strong grip does not necessarily cause a hook as a weak grip does not necessarily cause a slice. Could they be contributing factors? Yes of course but three of the aforementioned players above hit fades with a strong grip (Azinger, Couples, Duval). The strong top hand position helped create a “cupped” left wrist at the top of the backswing which opened the clubface just enough in order to hit a fade.

As an instructor it requires experience to take a quick snapshot of a student’s swing and observe how the grip correlates to the clubface position and ball flight. If a slice is the order of the day for your student and weak grip is evident then the correction is evident. The same can be said for a large hook and a strong grip. However if your student hits a power fade with a strong grip, then there is no correction of the grip required. What if he/she hits a big slice with a strong grip and his/her swing is on plane? Believe it or not a weaker grip may be necessary as the strong grip causes too much “cupping” of the left wrist (RH golfer) at the top of the back swing resulting in an open clubface. As one can now understand and appreciate, teaching golf and being good at it isn’t that easy and requires years of experience to hone the craft.

Bottom line there are very few elements to the grip which must be standardized but here they are:

1) The middle joint of the thumbs must be snug to the forefinger otherwise the club may rest too much into the palms. This results into either the club slipping or holding tight so the club does not slip. Proper wrist action is inhibited and tension prevails

2) The heel pad of top hand rests on top of club as shown in image below:

3) The pad of the thumbs should rest on the club slights askew from each other. In other words neither thumb rests on the center of the grip (shaft). For the right handed golfer the left thumb rests toward 1:00 and the right thumb toward 11:00

4) The unification of the hands has nothing to do with interlock, overlap (Vardon grip) etc… What unifies the hands is the top thumb fitting snugly in the lifeline (under the thumb pad) of the bottom hand.

There, that’s it!! The rest is up to you in understanding ball flight and how one’s grip affects the clubface and swing plane.

Next month: What does the tool in your hands do?
Where should golf be spending its marketing efforts?

Where should golf be spending its marketing efforts?

Anytime someone asks, “What is the best way to grow the game of golf,” the answer is almost always on junior programs. I respectfully disagree, and I have been operating junior golf programs for 15 years. There are all kinds of junior initiatives that have been around for several years. They have not lived up to expectations. From my own experience about one in ten stay with the game once they reach their teens. Not that we shouldn’t be supporting the effort, it’s just that there is little monetary benefit for golf courses. Junior golf is a labor of love, a way to give back to the game. For teachers, it can provide decent cash flow, but for courses, it does little for the bottom line. Think about it. You can’t realistically charge 8 to 14 year old kids $40 to $70 to play golf. That would be criminal.

So where should golf be looking to grow revenue? Simple. There will be 76 million people retiring in the next 10 years. They will have money and time on their hands. Talk about a marketing opportunity. Think I’m off base, then check out a place called the Villages in central Florida. It’s a retirement community. They have 28 executive courses and 9 regulation golf courses and each is full every day. Statistics say there are about 25 million golfers in the United States. That’s less than ten percent, which means that a great number of those retirees have never played golf. If I were a golf course owner, I’d be down at the Social Security office handing out flyers about the benefits and healthy activity of golf. I’m not discouraging junior efforts, just being realistic when it comes to keeping cash flowing.
At last someone is thinking clearly

At last someone is thinking clearly

The new mantra this summer is “Play it forward.” By doing this golfers can speed up play and have more fun according to USGA and PGA. Hello, where have you guys been for the past five years? Unfortunately, the response to hitting the ball longer has been to lengthen courses and make them tougher with forced carries, more water hazards and narrow fairways. For some reason protecting par has become the be all and end all of course set ups. As if it is some sacred cow that if threatened would bring on world disaster. The term itself as used in golf did not come about until 1911. It simply described the score an expert player was expected to make on a hole at a given distance. The USGA actually once assigned hole yardage for par: up to 255 yards for a par 3; 225 to 425 for a par 4, and 426 to 600 for a par 5. 

I say, we should not care about how low a number a golfer shoots. That’s the object of the game. If golf is supposed to be about fun, then stop worrying about protecting par. Think about the objective of the manufacturers when they design equipment to help a person hit it farther. It is to make the game easier for the average person. Instead of hitting a four iron into the green, maybe the golfer can hit a seven iron. If adding on length so the person still has to hit a four iron, what’s the point? Why bother improving equipment at all. Let’s not forget that less than one percent of all golfers can actually break par. Golf might be better served by returning to the 1911 standards.
A FRESH LOOK AT MARKETING GOLF COMPETITIONS

A FRESH LOOK AT MARKETING GOLF COMPETITIONS

Back in the 1980s when I still lived in Northern Indiana, I can remember that the South Bend Metro Golf Championship made a big announcement that the tournament was so popular that it had to limit the number of participants to 300. Last year, just 104 played.

Also in Indiana, I used to play in the Monticello Open, which had a long and storied history. They have pictures on the wall at Tippecanoe Country Club from the 1950s showing dozens of spectators viewing the action. Even a few touring professionals would tee it up. The last time I played in the event several years ago (it no longer welcomed all comers after that year), it was poorly run and only lasted one round.

I recently played in the Valdosta Open in Georgia at the Valdosta Country Club, a very fine facility. Only 38 players showed up, and when I first started playing back in the 1990s it was common to see 70+ players. In the 1990s in Pensacola, Florida, the Gulf Coast Scratch Tour for amateurs had to cap participation at 120 players. Today they get 30-40 players per event.

What in the world has happened to tournament golf? Nationwide, tournament participation is generally down from what it was 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. Is there any way to revive it?

Frankly, I don’t have any good answers to what happened. I really don’t know. I don’t think the economy has anything to do with it, because tournament participation has been on a downward trend for more than a decade.

What I do know is that our US and World Golf Teachers Cup events are not suffering from this malaise. Perhaps it’s the fact that we sell more than just a tournament – we sell an experience. We use this word a lot, but the camaraderie at these championships is second to none. People really enjoy renewing old friendships and making new ones, and I’m sure a lot of networking goes on, too. We also tend to play our events in family-friendly tourist venues, which also doesn’t hurt.

So maybe these other events need to take a lesson – a tournament lesson – from us. Offer an experience, more so than just a golf tournament, and they might see some old faces they haven’t seen in awhile…and undoubtedly some new ones.
Are we getting mixed signals from the USGA?

Are we getting mixed signals from the USGA?

Last month I applauded the “Play it forward” initiative backed by the USGA and other golf industry organizations. Then I run across an article that discusses how the golf course hosting the United States Amateur will be the longest in history at 7,760 yards. So what kind of message does that send? Certainly seems to be at odds with the thinking that most golfers are playing from the wrong set of tees. Besides, the amateur is a match play event, why should distance and par even matter.

I’m confused. Our protectors of the game say if people played from a shorter distance they would enjoy the experience much more and play more. More enjoyment, more players. Sounds logical. So why would you then go completely opposite your initiative when showcasing your premier events. The USGA has always operated on the premise that in golf everyone plays the same way, from professionals to weekend warriors. It is appealing to think that you can go to Pebble Beach and hit from the same spots where Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer played. That’s because even they played from yardages that most people could handle. By telling the average guy to move up while moving the very few farther back is nothing more than do as I say, not as I do. I’m not sure it is the right message to send.
If 12 holes becomes the new 18, then it’s time to bifurcate the rules

If 12 holes becomes the new 18, then it’s time to bifurcate the rules

Several people in golf are calling for golf to become a 12 hole option to adapt to changing lifestyles. Jack Nicklaus is one. He recently conducted a 12 hole event at his course in Columbus which included a larger diameter cup. As a traditionalist the idea goes against my nature but I am also a realist and making the game more friendly for the average Dick and Jane is not a bad idea. Let’s be honest, the professional game now is so far removed from what everyone else plays that the time for a bifurcated rule book has come. People should be able to play golf any way they like. Serious players are always going to play by the USGA rules. Most people however, just want to escape the office or enjoy some time with friends or family. They could care less about stroke and distance or penalties for grounding a club in the sand or hazard.

For centuries golf has insisted that playing by the rules is absolute, labeling anyone that doesn’t as slackers or cheaters. Someone, who should be drummed out of the game. Well in tournament play, absolutely. But less than 2% of golfers play for a living or in serious events. Why not let everyone else have fun? Golf has spent to much time catering to the small percentage of good players. In present times, that will be a dead end road. It is time to start paying attention to today’s society. We have raised a generation of people who want instant gratification. Most no longer have the patience required for becoming good golfers. I wish this was not the case, but the reality is we need a rule book that says, for tournament play, follow these 34 regulations. For recreation, play any way you want.
Teacher Talk

Teacher Talk

I recently played one of those relatively new championship courses in town and all four par 3 holes ranged in distance from 220 yards to 247 yards. That’s from the white tees. Considering that on my best day I carry the ball about 230, I had to hit driver on each tee. That I don’t mind, but in addition to the yardage each hole had hazards that were easily entered if the tee shot missed the green by the narrowest of margins. One of the holes required a 220 yard carry over a marshy lake in order to get home. I barely made it, but my playing partner did not. His drop required a 180 yard approach over the same lake. After another watery grave, he just stayed in the cart until the next tee. He was pretty hot under the collar.

When I was growing up and playing with my buddies in high school and college, we actually looked forward to the par threes. They presented reasonable chances for birdies. Most were in the 130 to 160 yard range and fun to play. Some of the best are no more than 125 yards or so, such as the postage stamp at Troon or my all time favorite the 13th at Brora in Scotland… The 17th at TPC is only 136 yards. If I make a bad shot with a nine iron in my hand, then I deserve a bogey or more. When I have to hit a driver to a green one quarter the size of a fairway that I hit the same club to, surrounded by water, then that becomes a bit extreme and uninteresting. How many balls does one have to lose on top of a double bogey before that course is written off the list of desirable places to play? Long and difficult par 3 holes don’t necessarily make for more enjoyable golf. The chance for the average guy to make a birdie certainly does. Let’s make sure they get that chance.
Teacher Talk

Teacher Talk

I recently played one of those relatively new championship courses in town and all four par 3 holes ranged in distance from 220 yards to 247 yards. That’s from the white tees. Considering that on my best day I carry the ball about 230, I had to hit driver on each tee. That I don’t mind, but in addition to the yardage each hole had hazards that were easily entered if the tee shot missed the green by the narrowest of margins. One of the holes required a 220 yard carry over a marshy lake in order to get home. I barely made it, but my playing partner did not. His drop required a 180 yard approach over the same lake. After another watery grave, he just stayed in the cart until the next tee. He was pretty hot under the collar.

When I was growing up and playing with my buddies in high school and college, we actually looked forward to the par threes. They presented reasonable chances for birdies. Most were in the 130 to 160 yard range and fun to play. Some of the best are no more than 125 yards or so, such as the postage stamp at Troon or my all time favorite the 13th at Brora in Scotland… The 17th at TPC is only 136 yards. If I make a bad shot with a nine iron in my hand, then I deserve a bogey or more. When I have to hit a driver to a green one quarter the size of a fairway that I hit the same club to, surrounded by water, then that becomes a bit extreme and uninteresting. How many balls does one have to lose on top of a double bogey before that course is written off the list of desirable places to play? Long and difficult par 3 holes don’t necessarily make for more enjoyable golf. The chance for the average guy to make a birdie certainly does. Let’s make sure they get that chance.
STACK & TILT (PART 2) stripped down

STACK & TILT (PART 2) stripped down

Stack & Tilt aficionados regard the technique as the “holy grail” to golf enlightenment. They are devout followers of Plummer and Bennett, Mac O’Grady and “The Golfing Machine”. The techniques are based on physics, biomechanics and kinesiology and are espoused by its proponents like the gospel.

As I mentioned in my previous article the main premise of the technique is to strike the ground in the same place every time with the club. Let’s put this in perspective. One of the most difficult elements for golfers of most levels is to strike the ball consistently without striking the ground before the ball or missing the ground all together or in other words hitting fat and thin shots. The main concepts of Stack & Tilt to help rectify the problem are to start with and maintain the weight on the front/lead foot throughout the swing.

I do not have enough space in this article to dissect what is right and wrong with this concept but suffice it to say, it is not necessary for the individual who is coordinated with a proper transition when initiating the downswing. Unfortunately many golfers begin their downswings by initiating it with an upper body spine rotation toward the target. If the weight is already favoring the front foot at the top of the back swing then this move can be effective as long as:

1) The back swing is flat (lead arm matches shoulder plane) 2) The shoulder plane is steeper (lead shoulder is lower)

Both can be seen in the swing on the left side of the photo:

Let’s dissect this concept further however. We all know that golf swing efficacy is difficult to maintain. There are times when it is working on all cylinders and yet other times when we simply can’t recreate that magical feel. Why is this? It is because it involves proprioception; the mind body connection that gives us a sense of our body parts. Basically feel for what we are doing while performing a movement. What I find perplexing with Stack and Tilt is that we move the arms, club and coil the body away from the target while attempting to maintain the weight toward the target. This is paradoxical because if the components of our upper body are moving in one direction the weight distribution should follow. It should follow in a natural way and not contrived. However with Stack and Tilt it is suggested to maintain the weight on the front foot. The problem that invariably occurs is that golfers don’t simply maintain the weight on the front foot but they increase it in an effort to stay there. Proof is in the pudding.

We have seen Tiger work more closely toward this concept with Sean Foley. Sean does not adhere to Stack and Tilt but rather a biomechanically sound swing based on geometry. I agree with him on his swing concepts and in working with Tiger we see he has gotten Tiger more on his left side at address. From there he wants to see Tiger coil deeply into his backswing in order to create leverage with the ground with both feet. By favoring the left side at address, the coiling of the torso away from the target places the weight equally on both feet at the top of the swing with both being corkscrewed into the ground. From there everything moves toward the target mindlessly with a complete release (hips, torso, wrists). Tiger in his effort to incorporate these changes on occasion increases his weight to the left foot during the backswing which has caused some problems. He has popped shots up on numerous occasions and has been struggling with fairway bunkers because he has been too steep.

This being said the concept of favoring a little weight on the forward foot at address can be effective but it must be done so properly and although the idea of maintaining it there is nice in theory, it is not plausible due to the movement away from the target with the club, arms and torso.

Next article: Stack & Tilt (part 3) The deception DAVID HILL

Is a certified examiner for the USGTF and a ranked instructor. • 24 year golf professional • USGTF Master Professional • Class Member Canadian PGA • Over 25000 lessons given in career • Director of Instruction Elm Ridge CC Montreal Canada • Owner Montreal Golf Academy (4 Locations) • President/Owner Marquis Golf (Corporate Golf/Travel) • Top 50 Canadian Teacher (National Post) • Top 100 USGTF Teacher
STACK & TILT (PART 1)

STACK & TILT (PART 1)

When discussing uniformity in golf instruction we cannot ignore the now famous if not infamous “Stack & Tilt” swing techniques introduced to the golf world by Mike Plummer & Andy Bennett with a huge splash on the June 2007 cover of Golf Digest. No other technique has had such an impact in golf instruction. It is considered revolutionary, controversial, cutting edge, gimmicky and all of the above. Without a doubt it received everyone’s attention from playing professionals, teaching professionals and amateurs alike.

The main premise behind the technique is to strike the ground at the same place every time and according to both Plummer and Bennett this is most easily performed by maintaining the weight over the front foot (left foot for “RH” golfer) throughout the swing. This of course goes against the paradigm of what has been taught since the game’s inception.

Another premise is the spine’s position both at address and during the course of the back swing. Again Plummer and Bennett adhere to the spine being straight (all the vertebrae being stacked on top of one another) at address. In other words it should not be “tilted” away from the target. From this starting position there is naturally more weight on the front foot. Whilst the back swing is performed on a steady axis the spine will have a slight forward spine tilt toward the target. This is counteracted through impact by the turning and thrusting of the left hip causing the spine to tilt away from the target. Thirdly they have brought to light a change in how we look at ball flight laws. They had us look at the initial direction of the ball as being dictated by club-face direction rather than the path the club-head was travelling. The path creates the spin in relation to the angle of the club-face.

Finally their technique produces a more around your body type swing (flatter if you will) with the back leg straightening slightly during the backswing allowing the spine to also bend lower toward the ball during the back swing (face closer to the ball so to speak at the top of backswing than at address)

I believe this pretty much covers it with regards to their main principles. It should be said that it was not Plummer and Bennett that coined the term “Stack & Tilt”. Golf Digest wanted a term for their technique and offered dozens in which they both turned down. Stack and Tilt were simply two words they used every day in their teaching so they stuck and the rest is history.

History is of course what Plummer and Bennett base their swing theories upon. There is of course merit to many of their ideas and some are plain physics such as basic ball flight laws however they are attempting to create a paradigm shift in the way many golfers, amateurs and teaching professionals have learned about how the body should move and how the club should be swung. Their theories evolved from Homer Kelly’s “The Golfing Machine” and Mac O’Grady’s teachings. You may agree or disagree with some or all of Stack and Tilt but this would be foolish for any instructor worth their merit. The goal is to broaden your knowledge base and open your mind to new ideas. Some of the ideas may very well be old ones brought to light in a way that appeals to the masses, easier to understand and perhaps easier to perform for many golfers.

I have my own ideas and opinions about Stack & Tilt, some favorable, some not in which I will share in the next article. In the meantime if you have never read “The Golfing Machine”, I encourage you to do so but be forewarned. In many circles it has been considered to be the most important book ever written on golf instruction and in others the most complicated. You’ll love it or hate it. Next article: Stack & Tilt (PART 2) Stripped down

DAVID HILL Is a certified examiner for the USGTF and a ranked instructor. • 24 year golf professional • USGTF Master Professional • Class Member Canadian PGA • Over 25000 lessons given in career • Director of Instruction Elm Ridge CC Montreal Canada • Owner Montreal Golf Academy (4 Locations) • President/Owner Marquis Golf (Corporate Golf/Travel) • Top 50 Canadian Teacher (National Post) • Top 100 USGTF Teacher