By Larry Van House, USGTF Member, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

“Hit the small ball before the big ball.” This is the most important skill to achieve to develop a golf swing…period. When a client can learn to do this successfully 90 percent of the time, his or her golf experience will improve drastically.

The small ball is, of course, a golf ball. The big ball is the earth. Hit the earth first, followed by the ball, and you will have hit a “fat” shot. Much of the energy of the swing and the speed of the clubhead will just sink into the earth. The ball may advance down the fairway, but it will not achieve the distance or backspin it could have. The fat shot will not stop and hold on a green. I am sure that a very large percentage of our clients will hit the earth first. We can teach them all sorts of things about a golf swing, but they will never realize anything close to their potential if they continually strike fat shots.

A deep divot after the ball is not always necessary or desirable. A shallow divot after the strike is fine, but it must start at the golf ball or even slightly in front of the ball.

Strike the golf ball first and then the turf, and all of the good things in golf are possible.

The truth of this is shown in Bobby Clampett’s “Impact Zone” golf teaching. Mr. Clampett shows how a golfer can test himself/herself quite easily by drawing lines in sand or even on grass turf, placing a golf ball on the line, swing, and obtain instant feedback on the quality of the swing – not just fat or thin but directionally, as well. Striking a golf ball isn’t even necessary. Swinging at the line in the sand can be sufficient. This is a perfect diagnostic test of a golf swing. But…how can the golfer make his/her body do the things necessary to hit the small ball before the big ball? Mr. Clampett has answers for that, as well. Helping our clients make this adjustment should be, I believe, also our first and most important task.

This method of drawing lines in the sand or turf works very well when it is possible to practice a golf swing outdoors. But what can we do to bring this diagnostic test indoors when the weather is bad? I worked on this problem for quite a while. I hoped to be able to bring this teaching method indoors to my indoor golf studio in Pennsylvania. I tried several potential high-tech solutions. They worked, but they were expensive and didn’t give the instant feedback that a simple line drawn in sand can give.

I finally settled on a low-tech solution. It is quite inexpensive and works perfectly. I call it my “Snow Board.” I think it may help you in your lessons for clients indoors, or even if it is used outdoors.

My Snow Board is a sheet of plastic (polycarbonate – G.E. trademarks it as Lexan) painted on both sides with black spray paint. The “snow” on my Snow Board is a covering spray of imitation snow – the stuff people use for seasonal decorations at Christmas. This imitation snow stands out bright white on the black background. I tried a lot of other white materials, and the imitation snow has been the best. Foot powder works well, but it takes a few minutes to turn white on the black background. This makes an unwanted delay in the progress of a lesson.

After spraying the imitation snow on the sheet, I draw a few lines on it with an aiming stick. I place a ball on the lines and ask my client to swing away. This is the first thing I do with a new client after they warm up. The results of this little test are, on almost all occasions, a major revelation to my clients, some of whom have been playing golf for many years. They are usually, as the Irish say, gobsmacked.

I think that when golfers go to a driving range, they are too interested in only watching the flight of the ball. They do not tend to examine the turf and the divot their club makes and its relation to the location of the ball. I think that may be why they are so surprised when they see the results their swing made as their club struck the Snow Board several inches behind the ball.

I ask them to make several swings and measure their results in inches behind where the ball was placed. I record this information as a way to measure later success. The Snow Board also provides a record of the direction of the swing. Whether a swing is outside to in, inside to out, or directly at the target, is plainly visible. Then, after discussing the importance of this test and of the great opportunities that will come when the strike on the Snow Board is made in front of the ball in a straight line toward the target, we get to work.

After the session, the Snow Board and the golf clubs can be cleaned easily with just water and a light brushing. The imitation snow that has splattered vacuums up from my golf mats quickly.

The Snow Board is my most important swing diagnostic. In a series of lessons with clients, I use it often as my clients’ swings progress. I would recommend that you consider using a Snow Board or similar device in your lessons, even if the lessons are conducted outdoors. Sand traps are not always readily available for us to use.

The results that appear on a Snow Board seem to be immediately understood by clients. The results are measurable and provide a visual direction for future lessons.
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