I’ll begin by acknowledging that this article may seem designed for the better player and I do hope my better players take heed, but I think we, as teachers, should always keep an eye to the future with our beginners. I want them to pursue scratch golf and they must be able to take their “range game” to the course. What I notice, increasingly, are range players who think hard about the motion of their swing in pursuit of “correctness” instead of reliability. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself, “Is that player using their contrived swing or natural swing?” This happens most with the highly trained athlete who has gained some level of success. That taste of success now leads them to want to improve with every practice session or every swing, to be exact. What do you feel? Is it forced movement? Do you painstakingly place each hand on the club, fidgeting until they feel powerfully melded? Then there is a ritualistic spread of the feet. It is time now to stare at the ball, double- and triple-checking all known mechanics. Now you begin your swing by moving your tense arms away, trying to keep them straight, to create width. The downswing is a function of dragging the handle into the ball, with as much lag as possible, so that players can jump to the sky and throw their hands at the ball in hopes of getting the clubhead to show back up in front of them. Now the handle must be quickly yanked left to “saw off” the finish. Lovely. Does it have to be this way? Does it need to be this way? I believe, as is many times true, we are looking so far away from us for “advanced knowledge” that we can’t see what is right in front of us. I believe that it is more important to swing naturally than it is to swing correctly. It is not like every swing on TV, the pro tour, is identical. In fact, they are all different. Better players treat their swing like it must always be governed with scrutiny, like it will run amok if they let it go free. I believe the opposite is true. Control comes from natural movement. Most of the best moves we make while swinging come from allowing things to happen, rather than making them happen. You hear some of the greatest swingers of the club we have ever known speak of the importance of soft grip pressure. For some players, this notion is unattainable within their “pressured” swing. There is: grip pressure, forced width, pressure into the ground, onto the shaft, at the ball and onto the side of our left foot. Will this contrived, pressure swing hold up under the pressure of competition? Soft grip pressure, the tube of toothpaste or holding a baby bird, speaks to relaxation and symmetrical movement. Some of that relaxation comes from affirmative movement. In other words, the longer you stand over the ball, the less your chances are of making a smooth swing. Think of our evidence of natural affirmative movement. Does anyone ever chunk a practice swing? You miss a three-foot putt and make the repeat every time. You kill the provisional ball. You run down the court at full speed, dribbling a ball you never look at. You pull up and rise to shoot a jumper that hits nothing but net. You field a ground ball, look up at the first baseman’s chest and throw a strike that hits his mitt just before the runner touches the bag. How did I just do that? You performed so well because you didn’t bog down the physical act with too much conscious thought. Why does the opposing team call two timeouts before the player shoots the game-winning free throw or kicks the crucial field goal? It is to break the player’s train of thought and invite in conscious thought. In golf, with so much time on our hands between shots, we must learn to pull the trigger quickly and subconsciously. In conjunction with the things that every player must learn to be a scratch golfer, I teach my players to be aware of the need for, and work to establish, a “window of opportunity.”  This safe haven is where we can perform out of an affirmative, subconscious group of movements. I ask them to hold the club up in front of them and, while looking at the clubface, softly place their hands on the club. Then posture the club to the ground and approach the ball. With our feet together set the club behind the ball (one thousand one). Then we slide our left foot toward the target and form our ball position (one thousand two). Next we look up at the target as we slide our right foot back and make the width of our stance (one thousand three). Once aligned, we calmly look back down at the ball (one thousand four). As our mind naturally goes to one thousand five, we begin our swing by feeling the middle of our body turn. The left hip is a great area to focus on, moving toward the middle of our stance, to begin the swing. It is important to realize that your arms must be heavy and relaxed, ready to submit to the swinging action supplied by the body. This is how your true, natural golf swing will come alive. If you grab the grip and yank the club back or your arms are tight and tense, you are not really swinging the club in the truest sense. Your hands never move your hands, in a real golf swing. Think about that statement until it makes sense to you and go out a practice it. This whole action is over within a five count. Many students, myself included, felt rushed, like I was being pushed out of a plane. As I stood hitting balls, I quickly realized that the results were at least as good as the contrived swing and were getting better by the second. Be patient and enjoy the new thought process. My mental thought went from that of “hurry up” to feeling like “I need to go now.” Now, I know this shot will be over in less than five seconds and I feel confident in my assertive nature. I am not giving myself time to “call timeouts” before I perform the swing. As I mentioned earlier, symmetry is important to giving your swing to your instincts. Hands need to be relaxed and neutral. If, in your stance, you turn your right foot to the right slightly, then the left foot must be turned slightly to the left. When in a stance, there is a line between my right shoulder and right hip. The same is true on the other side of my body. With my arms hanging in front of me and my elbows pointing at my hip bones (Hogan),  my elbows rest on the line between my hip and shoulder on each side of my body. As I begin, my left hip turns in toward the ball and my right side will swing away together, keeping my right hip, elbow and shoulder lined up. It is then a very natural movement to return toward my address position as I then move through the ball. The same thing that happened on the back swing (hip, elbow, shoulder) will happen again on the left side of my body. Soon we realize that any excess tension, especially our elbows, impedes our feel and pursuit of our most natural swing. Our elbows act as a natural hinge in a swinging motion, so they must bend in the same way on each side of our body, for our swing to reflect a circular motion. Again, our natural swing takes affirmative motion, symmetry and relaxation. How will this translate to wedge play? Think of how we see some players on the pro tour struggling to pitch basic wedges. I guarantee that, while working on the “action” in their full swing and forcing their arm movement, they have lost the natural feeling of swinging relaxed, heavy arms. They will have to practice their natural swing for long enough, without trying to make changes every practice session and then their wedge game will come back to a great level. I realize that some wedge shots require a quick cock of the shaft or a contrived swing to accommodate the lie or circumstance. The point is, we can easily contrive a swing “every so often” to design a shot, but we don’t want to live in a contrived swing. The same is true with putting. Use the “window of opportunity” you create for your full swing and stay within that time frame to play all shots on the green. This type of practice will heal a busted golf swing. It will help your tournament golfers gather another valuable level of confidence to take into competition. Although I am initially specific about the pre-shot routine, I know each golfer will make this idea their own and that is the mission to accomplish. It has been interesting for me to see the changes come about. My grip got a little weaker as a result of the relaxed left arm aiding the “correct” release. I am touching the ground with much more precision, allowing the club to run its course, rather than striking at the ground. The curvature of the ball is much less, as my grip can serve its actual purpose, to build a “tendency” for the clubface at impact. As I began this article, this advice is most useful for the accomplished golfer who has already put in the time to build a competent swing but, is part also of the necessary learning process for any golfer. Finally, the game in general and everyone who plays will benefit from the quicker pace of play. Golfers like Sam Snead and Jim Furyk, with vastly different swings, have trusted their natural swing to bring them to the top of professional golf. I believe one day instruction will go away from robotic action and seeming precision, in favor of instinctive athletic movement…the sooner the better.
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