Form Follows Function

Apologies for the absence from the blog, the preparations for the return to golf have well and truly begun. Over the winter period I found myself writing more and more about PGA & European Tour golf but as we come out of this lockdown I anticipate posts to trend towards instruction. If there are any aspects of the game that you would like me to write about in particular please do get in touch. I wanted to kick off the conversation about technique with a little discussion about form vs functionality, and with this, I hope to get you starting off on the right foot with your journey to better golf this season. As mentioned in my previous post we are coming off the back of a rather large hiatus and I think it is important to come out of the blocks firing from a mentality, process and motivation perspective.

Technique is a topic that is talked about plenty, it is very rarely agreed on and its importance is widely questionable. The fundamentals are important, ensuring the club is being presented to the ball as the shot in question requires, but how the club gets to that point is entirely personal, just like your DNA. Using this DNA analogy helps to explain why over the last few months I have found myself watching pro golf swings thinking ‘how on earth did they make it on tour!?’. The proof is in the pudding with golf, the only way to really judge a player is based on their scores and statistics, yet we are always quick to judge how their swing looks. The same can be said when judging our own games, I see a lot of people filming their swings on driving ranges, spending plenty of time analysing how it looks yet spending little to no time analysing their scores, strategy and statistics!!

Functionality should always come before form. Find a swing that is functional and then you can make it look pretty. By the time you have built a functional swing your scores are probably getting so good that you really don’t care how it looks! This is how the likes of Jim Furyk became one of the highest earners ever on tour. An analogy I use a lot in my coaching is that Jim Furyk & Tiger Woods’ swings look pretty similar on Trackman (bar speed & distance numbers) yet they are unbelievably different to the naked eye. Technology such as Trackman gives us reference points and the opportunity to measure functionality to an extent, we just need to go and find it again and again. A good drive for example, requires the club path & face angles to match up to the desired shot, strike location needs to be central, with the angle of attack and dynamic loft matched up to the desired ball flight, and the club and ball speed correct for the intended distance. Trackman really doesn’t care how you got it there it just has to get the job done. What the job is, again, is very personal. The question to be asked after every shot is “did the motion of the club present the required positions to the ball to produce the desired shot?” The next time you mention to an instructor that you want to find consistency, what you are really looking for is the ability to consistently find the correct impact conditions for the shot you want to hit. Unless you are made of robotics you will never be able to make the club and ball do exactly the same thing over and over again and golf isn’t a sport that requires that either. What it does require is getting the ball to do something close to what you are trying to do most of the time.

In order of priority, start by making sure you always have an intention, especially when practicing. What is the intended target and what do I intend for the ball to do in order to get there? Next, don’t panic what it looks like, if you’re hitting the ball close to your intention every time then you are having a good round or practice session, no matter how you do it. And finally, make sure you practice a wide variety of shots, especially on the driving range. Vary the club, flight, target and time between shots just like you would in a round, golf is not a sport where you hit 7iron over and over again, try to avoid it on the range unless working on something.

It is important to have a counter-argument to this and give a bit of support to technique and the ‘looks’ of someone’s swing, after-all there are a large number of very good swings on tour. When trying to build a golf swing there are obviously easier ways of finding the correct impact positions than others, hence why coaches teach a lot of things in unison. The research and testing that has gone on over the years leads us to a certain number of pre and in-swing principles that need to take place in order for the motion to work, but each coach or player will have their own preferences on how they achieve them. The reason why particular methods become popular, such as the overlap grip or the club face parallel to lead arm at the top, is simply because these are the easiest ways of getting the face matched up to hit a straight shot…for most of us.

Ask yourself what makes a good golf swing? Repeatability, efficiency, power, adaptability, control, balance…the list is endless. When you next film your swing and contemplate making a change, ask how will it get you closer to achieving items on the list above? If the answer is ‘it won’t’, don’t bother. Work on functionality and leave the aesthetic changes to the coach. We are adapting swings to each players body, mobility and ability and I promise you the more functional the swing becomes, the better it will look. Form follows function.

Andy

A Fresh Start

The end of lockdown is in sight.

The date is set and the preparations can begin. Disappointingly, it is still a few weeks away but we can be positive that there is light at the end of this horribly dark tunnel. With this being one of my last posts in this strange period of our lives, I wanted to jump away from the negative mindset that has clouded over us for the last few months and look at the opportunities this lockdown gives us. We couldn’t be in a better place to have a quick assessment of our golf, wipe the slate clean in certain aspects and start with a fresh new mindset, new strategy and motivation to make amends for previous bad habits.

The pandemic has given us the chance to slow down a little bit, take time to reflect, re-assess values and take a break from the ‘rat race’ lifestyle of the 21st century. Many have used their new found time to learn skills, make home improvements, read, learn languages, clean up bad habits and become better versions of themselves, a time to reset. The same can be said for our golf. (Hopefully) never again will we be away from the game for so long. Before these lockdowns I don’t think I had ever gone multiple months without playing since I started age 5! It would be very easy to gravitate to the negative connotations of not playing for a few months but there could be major benefits for us. Inevitably the conversation on the first tee come March 29th will be all doom and gloom, “Where’s this one gonna go?” “This could be interesting!” “You getting ready to shout fore?” It’s not going to be easy, but you have such a good opportunity to put previous negativity in the past, start doing things differently and turn your game around.

With this post I want to tackle the more habitual aspects of golf, not the basic things like having a warm up, cleaning your clubs, or using the same type of ball every round. The process of initiating change usually looks something like ‘reflect, plan, evaluate’ but we rarely give ourselves time do it. We have 3 more weeks to reflect therefore I want to help inspire you with some of the changes you can make to shoot better scores when golf returns. The key here is honesty, you have to be brutally honest with yourself otherwise your assessment will be egotistically skewed. Put yourself in your regular playing partners shoes, what would they say about your game, mentality, attitude? What would they tell you to improve? Here are some suggestions below in statements, I believe statements are easier to follow, a bit like oaths to yourself.

I will aim for the centre of the green when using a 7iron or more, with no exceptions

I will not pull a club out the bag until I have a plan set in stone.

I will not let a bad score on the previous hole change my game plan.

I will follow my routine over every shot, no matter the circumstances.

I will commit 100% to every shot.

I will hit shots that I know I can hit.

Can you notice a trend? They are all mindset related. I wanted to highlight how easy improvement can be, but also how important mindset is. Realistically technique comes second to mindset, even Adam Scott wouldn’t play well with a stinking attitude. I also chose these statements as this is where you can really benefit from time off, our habitual nature turns our actions and thoughts into routine as we play golf week in, week out therefore a break can do us good. Mindset is something you can easily keep an eye on, but sometimes it requires you to think about yourself in the 3rd person. Watch out for the following verbal or internal statements; “I hate this hole”, “I always hit it there”, “I can’t read this green”, “I’ve not lost a ball yet”. These are just some of the many negatives we talk or think about and they are completely unnecessary. There’s no reason to hate a hole, you can easily not hit it in the same place every time by taking a different strategy or club, you can read the green but you mustn’t be learning from your previous mistakes and not losing a ball should become the habit. Ultimately you must think like a winner before you start winning.

Unless you have practice facilities at home, making major technique improvements is tough in lockdown and when we return to the course there’s going to be a lot going on. It takes a few minutes of reflection to change mentality, it takes months to change golf swings. However, some other areas you might want to tackle could include:

Preparation / warm up routines

Practice habits

Equipment – Clubs in the bag that don’t get used? Get rid of them! Clubs in the bag that ‘you can’t hit’? Come and see me!

Particular shots – flop shot, high draw, low fade, punch shot.

Strategy and course management

I hope this has opened your eyes to the opportunity we have, the chance to start afresh. Before you go and see your coach or come and see me for help, assess how you have been approaching your game. Is there anything seriously wrong with your swing or have you just been in a bit of a poor mental rut? As a rule, I would always advise arriving at a golf lesson with a set of objectives you would like to achieve, take ownership of your own game before putting it in the hands of somebody else. There may be technical issues floating around but are they the major influencing factor on you shooting poor scores? If it was measurable, I would estimate that poor technique only accounts for about 3 out of 10 shots of a 10-over-handicap round of golf. Along with mentality there is strategy, club/shot selection, assessment of conditions, lie adaptation, aim, focus and so many other attributes, making swing changes just a small part of my job. To summarise, here is an area that I am personally going to change when golf returns, that utilises this clean slate idea.

Assessment – Poor concentration & strategy management during non-competitive rounds, especially at Worplesdon, with play not replicating tournament conditions (often too aggressive approach shots leading to mistakes)

Plan of action – Take more time in practice rounds, don’t feel like I need to play to the speed of others. Use a yardage book more and make more notes. Pay more attention to pin placements (especially on the tee box) and play to the fat side of the pin more often (side of flag with more green area).

Evaluation – Use green in regulation stats to measure & also start measuring if fat side of pin was found.

If this has inspired you, please get in touch with your ideas, let me know what you are going to do differently when you return to golf, I would love to hear them. I look forward to catching up with you all soon!

Andy

Forgive Quickly – A Valuable Lesson from Max Homa’s Victory

Apologies for the posts in quick succession but this one’s an important one.

Max Homa won in nerve biting fashion on Sunday night at the PGA Tour’s Genesis open hosted by the fantastic Riviera Club. If you didn’t see it, I highly recommend watching the highlights which can be found here. Tied for the lead playing the final hole, Los Angeles native Max Homa striped his drive down the middle leaving himself just a wedge and proceeded to put it to 3’4″ from the hole. It was an incredible shot considering the circumstances and the golfing world thought he had sealed the deal, but they were wrong, his putt viscously lipped out and the victory was taken from his grasp, a playoff loomed. He admitted afterwards that the nerves got the better of him, he then had to prepare for a playoff with Tony Finau fresh off the back of a stellar 64 a few groups ahead of him.

Advantage Tony. He was the overwhelming favourite for the playoff, Max had just walked off the 18th green, heartbroken, embarrassed, nervous, a world of emotions, whilst Tony was relaxed and ready to go. Keeping things brief, Finau hit a nice tee shot on the 1st playoff hole leaving a straightforward chip, Homa’s drive followed on a similar line, bounced a little left and came to rest…right up against a tree. You couldn’t write it. The guy who’s just blown his chance on the 18th green then gets a horrendous break in the playoff, surely it was game over. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t quite the perfect ending, Max incredibly got it onto the green from there, missed the putt but went on to win it on the next hole.

It wasn’t the shot that was incredible, it was his reaction when finding his ball up against the tree. Annoyingly I cannot find any footage of it but if you watch the full coverage back they show his walk from the tee. From the moment he saw where his ball was there was not a single ounce of poor reaction, in fact he didn’t react at all. Coming off the back of what happened on 18, to one of the worst breaks ever seen in a playoff, many tour players would have lost the plot when they saw that ball. Toys out the pram, face like sour grapes, stomping all over the place would be some of the usual reactions we’d expect. We’re all human and amongst huge pressure, emotions run high.

According to reports, in the short time between regulation play and the playoff, Homa called his wife and she reminded him of a mindset he had been working on recently, ‘forgive quickly’. Homa and his caddie did just that. They didn’t waste an ounce of emotion as they approached the golf ball, the bag was put down and it was off to work on a plan right away. In an act of pure defiance, it was like they had completely ignored where the ball came to rest, the focus had to be on the next shot, as always. You could quite easily say that this display of mental resilience is what won Homa the tournament, he was completely un-phased (on the outside) to the events that he could not control. The putt on the 18th was over, nothing could be done about that and the ball up against the tree wasn’t going to move, so why waste the energy complaining about it?

Golf is an emotionally draining sport, it involves intense concentration for a long period of time and is both a mental and physical workout. The lesson here is to focus solely on what you can control. Bad breaks happen all the time in our sport, it is part of the game as we ‘play it as it lies’. We have days where we feel hard done by, cheated or things just didn’t go our way. If you can swear to yourself that you did everything you could over the shot, including ensuring you weren’t distracted by a previous bad break, then you must simply accept and move on. I understand that this is fairly basic practice in golf but I have never seen a clearer example of how a pro handled the situation so brilliantly, as mentioned, it is almost normal to see even the best in the world mentally imploding live on tv. As a result, I’d like you to take Max’s phrase away with you, ‘forgive quickly‘ as it puts a slight spin on acceptance. By forgiving, we are covering a wider range of bases than just a bad break, such as; being distracted by someone, poor course conditions, traffic on the way to the course, an annoying playing partner and there are many more examples. How many times a round do you find yourself wasting mental capacity thinking or worrying about these things? The answer will be a lot, and it is unbelievably difficult to not get frustrated, annoyed or angry, but it will certainly help if you learn not to. Control everything in your power and leave behind anything uncontrollable.

Your annoyance will soon be aimed at yourself, for not being better prepared in the first place.

Andy

Not all Progress is Visible to the Naked Eye

Why am I not getting better?

The million dollar question. The question that if we knew the answer to we’d be shooting 65 every week. One of the things I love about golf is that it can never be completed, we can always strive for better, forever. This also provides it’s downfalls, we get frustrated when we aren’t playing well, we aren’t getting better, we might be getting worse. If your golfing skill level was put in a graph, it wouldn’t be a linear graph where with time, practice and lessons we consistently got better, it would (should) see improvements over time but the line would be very up and down showing the ebs and flows of typical golf performance. Those who see their graph going in the wrong direction might describe their situation as ‘a rut’, a bad spell, being unlucky or just accepting they are getting worse but even this line would be up and down. You might be in the worst run of form of your life but you can still chuck in a great score, have some good holes or get a hole in one out of nowhere. You never quite know what is coming next, one of golf’s greatest attributes, and when you fully come to realise this, you will never get yourself down on the course ever again.

Players will often look for scores or stats for gratification, real tangible ways of seeing improvement. As a coach however, I often sense improvement based on conversation, a players mood, confidence and how they carry themselves. This is because improvement is a process in golf, it isn’t something that happens quickly, much to our frustration. We may seem some short term improvements but improving engrained skills takes time. A typical example of this process might look like the following:

Struggling in windy conditions -> learn to flight the ball (via lesson) -> practice the shot, learning to control it -> explore different ball flights (high, low ,medium) -> try them out on the course -> go back and work on the lower flight as it is still tricky -> try on course again -> try in competition -> master skill -> master in competition

How long do you think this process might take? It could be days, week’s, months, the answer is unknown and it will vary all the time. We can speed it up with great intentions, focus, dedication and understanding but ultimately the process is ever lasting. Mastering a skill is open to your interpretation, would you be happy pulling off the shot every 3 attempts for example? A way of understanding where a student is on this process journey is to talk to them, as you can imagine the closer a player is to mastering a skill, the more comfortable and confident they will be. When they are then comfortable/confident at one of their biggest weaknesses, they start to gain confidence with their overall game. The phrase ‘oozing confidence’ is big in golf, when you step on that first tee knowing that you’ve learnt to chip for example, your confidence will ooze out over other aspects too, such as the nervy first drive. I would argue strongly that a player who has improved mentally, learned and improved understanding, would see a greater improvement in scores than a player who has improved technically.

Performance is a package tied together by the mental side of things, therefore the majority of progress is not visible to the naked eye. The swing comparison videos are only a small part of your game actually progressing. There are two vital components to progression, motivation and consistency. Motivation is the foundation for progression, there needs to be a goal and a want or reason to achieve it. As expressed, goals can take a long time to achieve therefore sustained motivation is key. In order to maintain high levels I would recommend a couple of things. 1) Set many short term, process driven goals designed to reach the long term objective and 2) track your progress.

Setting short term, process driven goals – We are quick to jump straight to the top of the staircase but it always looks and feels like a hell of a way to get there. If we were to focus on the 1st step, then the 3rd, then the 5th and so on, suddenly the goal doesn’t look so far off. I’d also suggest that these goals are process driven, focusing on what you can control. Wanting to improve your putting knowing you leave putts short typically? Set the goal for each round to get every putt past the hole, then change it to past the hole but within 3 feet and so on. Poor at aiming the putter? Set the goal as simple as using a line on the ball for every putt.

Track your progress – Keep stats, both on and off the course. Sticking with the putting example, yes, maybe keep a record of how many putts you have per round but more importantly, keep a record of how many putts you got past the hole. If it was 26/40 for the first round, make sure it’s at least 30 in the second, and 32 in the third. Having this goal might then entice practice, so on the practice green set up balls 30ft away from 5 different holes, repeat 3 times, see how many you got past the hole within 3 feet, record the result and beat it the next time you practice. Having a visible idea of your progress is unbelievably powerful as a motivator. Linking this back to the question I asked at the start (why am I not getting better?) well, have the stats on your processes improved? If not then you need to ask yourself why and potentially look at technique, if yes but your scores haven’t improved then your focus needs to look at other areas that are holding you back. This area of ‘my processes are getting better but my scores aren’t’ is the real danger area, we go to the driving range weekly but after while of our scores not improving, suddenly this turns to bi-weekly, or the quality of our practice drops. Once the visible improvement is there, patience is your next challenge.

And then it comes down to the C word, the C word that everyone is looking for in their games, consistency. The truth is, you need to be consistent in order for your game to be consistent. Consistency comes as a result of your processes being consistent. If you want to see that nice straight line of progression up the graph then your processes need to be completed consistently and consistently better over time. Regular play, regular practice, a set in stone routine and similar pre-round preparation would be a good place to start.

A word that links all of this together nicely is resilience. Golfers need to be resilient because not only do we lose most of the time but things often don’t go our way. The most prolific winner in our sport has only won 23% of the times he’s teed it up on tour (i’ll let you guess who that is) and multiple times a round, if not a hole, does the ball not stick to it’s plan. Improvement is a quest, a journey, and one that should keep you hooked to the sport. Fall in love with that journey, learn to appreciate the processes and the improvement will take care of itself. Don’t let outcomes take away from the fact that you are improving, as time will always tell.

Andy

The Distance Debate Simplified

So much ‘golf talk’ at the moment is focussing on distance I thought I would jump on here and hopefully simplify the situation for you all. With PGA Tour players really focussing on their length and now the R&A & USGA looking into limiting equipment, I know a lot of people don’t know what to think anymore.

As the technological advancements in equipment are slowing down (partly due to legal limitations), this ‘trend’ in distance has come from 4 areas: 1) statistics showing how beneficial distance off the tee is. As a result, 2) players ‘trying’ to hit it further, and in their quest to achieve this, 3) increases in strength and flexibility , which in turn brings more focus and knowledge to 4) improved use of ground reaction forces and other science. Amateur golfers have been wanting to hit the ball further, since, well, forever but purely from an egotistical perspective. With improved statistics and evidence there is now a purpose to the pursuit and here are a few statistics that I hope will encourage you to work on your distance this season.

One of the biggest myths we need to debunk is that you have to hit fairways. The current PGA Tour average % of fairways hit is sitting at just under 60% and the leaders in this category hit 76%. I had to scroll down to 55th place on the driving accuracy leaderboard before I found a winner on tour this season, Harris English at 65%. This greatly contrasts the driving distance leaderboard where 1st place Bryson DeChambeau and 8th place Dustin Johnson are already multiple winners this season. Coincidentally, DeChambeau and DJ lead the ‘strokes gained tee to green’ stats whilst hitting only 60% and 64% of fairways respectively. As you can imagine it takes incredible ability to hit it the longest and still hit a lot of fairways which is why these guys are the best in the world. But what this does show already is that distance > driving accuracy, to some extent. This is where the ‘strokes gained’ model becomes so useful, it doesn’t care whether you have hit the fairway or not, it just looks at whether you have gained an advantage over the rest of the field. For example:

TPC Sawgrass’ 18th hole is a 446-yard, par-4. The PGA TOUR’s scoring average, or baseline, on a par-4 of that length is 4.100. Fowler hit his tee shot on No. 18 in the fairway, 116 yards from the hole. The TOUR scoring average from the fairway, 116 yards from the hole, is 2.825. He gained 0.275 strokes on his tee shot. Here’s how:

Baseline for tee – Baseline for second shot – 1 = strokes gained: off-the-tee
4.100 – 2.825 = 1.275 – 1 = +0.275

Currently, the PGA Tour average proximity of approach shots from 150-175yards from the fairway is 26’8″, with it being 44’7″ from the rough (remembering that this includes US Open type rough etc). However, if a player was to hit hit it up to 25 yards further off the tee (125-150 to green) but kept finding the rough, they would still average 35’9″. Although this doesn’t sound particularly attractive just yet, and this is where you have to be a little careful with averages, remember that this now means you are hitting at least 1 or two clubs less into each green. An 8iron in our hands suddenly changes to a wedge, and with a wedge we have 1″ less club length (easier to find the middle), a lot more spin (roughly 1500rpm) with a 6º greater launch angle and suddenly we have a lot more tools in our armoury. Suddenly we can get the ball landing steeper and stopping quicker, get equal if not more spin and have a lot more control over the club, even from the rough. These advantages are increased further if you hit it in the semi or get a nice lie in the rough, but it is important to remember that we will not see an advantage at all if we find ourselves in knee high rough, thick heather or blocked out by the trees. The magic equation we are looking for is increased driving distance whilst keeping the ball in play.

The initial worries with this advice is that it is difficult to find fairways when you are hitting it harder and further but rest assured, the leader in fairways hit, Ryan Moore, still averages 285yards off the tee, only 10yards less than the PGA Tour average. It is very important to note that the players who are the longest are only taking advantage of their distance when it is safe to do so, strategy is vital. Using a par 5 as an example, from the fairway PGA Tour players average 85 feet from the hole from 250yards out, but from 220yards that number improves to 52 feet. So then we take Bryson as an example, who is hitting it 329yards on average, 45 yards longer than Ryan Moore. When Ryan has 250 to the hole on a par 5, Bryson is left with 205 where the pro’s average 43 feet from the hole. I won’t bore you with more math but you get the picture, over the course of a round Bryson is going to be almost twice as close with his approach play on par 5’s than Ryan providing he finds somewhere safe off the tee, resulting in a couple less shots per round comfortably. Where the pros have been smart, is recognising that they will now be hitting more wedges than before, resulting in them improving their wedge play stats to fully maximise the benefits of the improved driving distance.

I think the skill required comes in two parts; being able to hit it further whilst keeping it ‘in play’ and being able to decide when to pull out the driver and bomb it. First things first we need to learn to hit it far, or further. There are so many areas to attack here but you must start by trying, I would predict that the average player could increase their length off the tee by 15 yards without any help. Try hitting it harder on the range, swing faster for 10 balls each session and learn to find the middle of the face before learning to keep it on the fairway. I see so many people guilty of never actually working on it, either admitting defeat (‘i’ll always be short’) or not actually practicing swinging at higher speeds. From a strategical standpoint, have a go at hitting longer drives in a practice round, you will be surprised at how much easier it makes approach shots and that you aren’t that much less accurate off the tee (providing you have practiced). You will also start to notice fairway widths more, and you will start to think better strategically. One of the best ways of incorporating this is by using yardage books/course guides or Google Earth. Figure out at what distance from the tee is the widest SAFE landing zone for your ball and aim for it, and don’t forget that safe doesn’t necessarily mean the fairway. Before you walk up to the tee box on autopilot please think about your plan first, remembering that laying up isn’t always the best option.

In summary, longer drives = less club into greens = statistically improved chance of hitting it closer = less shots.

Andy

For more info on PGA Tour Averages – pgatour.com/stats

Strokes gained book – Every Shot Counts by Mark Broadie

Course management experts – Follow Scott Fawcett & Lou Stagner on Twitter

Forming Your Recipe

If there was a gameshow that offered £1 million for hitting a fairway with your driver, how would you attempt to do it?

You’re standing on the 18th tee at Worplesdon (450y straight par 4), you have to use your driver, you have to hit the ball at least 75% of your maximal driving distance and the ball has to come to a stop on the fairway. That’s it, thats the game, but you only get one shot at it. How would you approach this task, what would be your recipe for success?

This is a similar predicament to what the leaders in tournaments face often as they get to the final hole; hit the fairway and the trophy is there’s. The first step to this challenge for the pro’s would be creating a plan, would it be the same for you? Would you hit your shot straight or with curvature? How much power would you give the drive, 70%? 100%? Where would you aim? On what side of the tee would you put the ball down? What swing thoughts would you have?…suddenly a plan seems very important, after all there is £1 million on the line! Usually this plan is shaped by the layout of the hole, the conditions and the hazards the players face, but in our gameshow we have a dead straight fairway in front of us with no bunkers in play. As a result we’d expect players to aim straight and hit it straight but I think you’d be amazed at how many don’t. In reality, deep down our plan is etched in to our game based on what we are good at, what we know we can achieve and what we like to do. This is the recipe we have formed.

Like the food variety, these recipe’s are formed over time, refined over and over again throughout years until the flavouring and seasoning is spot on. Then, we practice cooking them a number of times before suddenly the recipe card is not needed, we don’t need to measure the ingredients and sub consciously bang out a brilliant dish with ease. This is what the pro’s do with their golf. In our gameshow, world #1 Dustin Johnson would almost certainly hit a fade, Bubba Watson would most likely hit a huge slice and Rory Mcilroy would probably hit a little draw, why? because they know that is their best chance of hitting the fairway. As we see with golf swings, there is no one way to play golf, you must figure out what works best for you and it must be based on your strengths. All 3 pro’s mentioned have natural shot shapes that match up to their techniques, DJ has a strong grip but holds it off with immense rotation, Bubba is an incredibly handsy, feel player and Mcilroy get’s so deep in his turn the club path naturally get’s a bit in-to-out.

So when you are next thinking about making some changes to your technique, ask yourself, do they match up to what you are trying/like to do? How will they affect your recipe? Will you still be able to produce your go-to shot? I firmly believe it is important to be able to hit a wide variety, if not all of the shots but you must also be able to repeat a particular shot well. The idea of not aiming for the straight shot is probably a blog for another day, but the main reason is due to probability, the straight shot requires both the club path and club face to be heading towards the target. When aiming for curvature using the path and face differential, we are more likely to start the ball in the right direction and get it curving the way we want to, a.k.a. getting both matched up. If we went for a straight shot but accidentally got our club path travelling slightly left, with the club face pointing left we are in serious trouble for example. In order of priority with your recipe, learn to get the ball curving how you want to, then you can learn to get it starting on the correct line for that shot. When on the driving range, have a go at hitting to a target with a 7 iron, 5 balls straight, 5 balls with a fade, 5 balls with a draw, 5 with a 6iron softly and 5 with an 8iron at full power, noting down each time where they ended up. Which set of shots do you think will be the most successful?

‘But what if we can’t curve the ball on purpose?’ The most important thing here is intention, what are you trying to do with each shot? There should always be a plan in mind, just like you have when trying to get the ball past your opponent in a game of tennis. I’d like you to take this gameshow analogy onto the course in future. Set yourself mini challenges, hitting fairways, hitting greens and getting short game shots within 3 feet. If you are not sure what you’re ‘go-to’ shot is at the moment, put yourself under immense pressure and you’ll soon find out. What you will really learn is it’s not how, but what you do, that matters.

Andy

P.S My choice would be a small fade that starts at the left side of the clubhouse, teed up from the right side of the tee box and hit hard.

Winners Aren’t Always ‘The Best’ – Analysing a Champion

Last week saw the start of the 2021 European Tour season at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, a Rolex Series event with a huge prize purse to play for. As always, the event attracted big names from all corners of the globe; Rory Mcilroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose to name a few. Come Sunday, it seemed a three horse race between Mcilroy, Fleetwood and the up and coming Tyrrell Hatton. On paper, this was between two of them. Impeccable ball striking, unrivalled accuracy and tremendous distance from two of the best long game players on the planet. Serious pressure on Sunday with the world watching and over €1 million on the line, surely their experience gave them a huge advantage. Nope, Tyrrell beat them by 6 & 7 shots respectively, giving hope to us all.

Tyrrell shot a bogey free, 6 under par 66 in what looked like a flawless performance, but was it? The 29 year old stands at 5’8″ with a normal physique, he averages just under 300 yards off the tee and has by no means a textbook golf swing, someone that we can all relate to (apart from the distance). It’s what Tyrrell has inside that stands him out from the rest, and what I think made him dominate last week. To outwill – “to demonstrate a greater will than”. Let’s look at his physical game first.

Source: @europeantour Instagram

If you aren’t familiar with ‘strokes gained’ statistics, they are a much more accurate way of measuring a players performance vs the rest of the field than traditional stats. From the graphic above you can see Tyrrell was very strong playing to the green and around the greens, ranking 1st in strokes gained tee to green (all shots taken away from the putting surface) and 2nd in strokes gained approach (approach to green shots) which could be seen by the many brilliant iron shots he hit. His short game was solid but not spectacular and he drove it well (not shown in the statistics, narrow fairways meant even good drives were punished). Watching the highlights back, you will see his performance really wasn’t special for the first few holes, many wayward shots saved by his handy short game. Playing in the final group with Mcilroy made his front 9 look really unimpressive, yet there he was in the lead and slowly building momentum. A poor drive on 10 was followed up by holing a lengthy birdie putt and from that point onwards he was never going to lose. Regarding physical performance, his biggest attribute was never getting in any real trouble, playing smart and missing greens in the right places resulting in a clean card. His performance down the stretch, especially mentally, is what I was really impressed by.

Personality wise, Hatton is well known for having a temper, as shown in the ‘Angry Golfers’ video released the day before the tournament (if you haven’t watched it, you should). This comes from his gritty, determined attitude and huge desire to win. Having these attributes, formed from an early age meant it was only a matter of time until his swing matched up to the task. He has now won 4 times in the last 14 months. Tyrrell is a winner. He does whatever it takes to win, embraces the challenge head on and wont back down. We are seeing this week on week now. As a result of time and patience, the ability to deal with nerves and pressure gets easier but they are just part of being in contention on Sunday and will never go away. Therefore, it is the players who embrace them, fight and overcome the situation, that flourish. It’s not always the biggest boxer who wins the fight and the quickest car doesn’t always win the race. One of your biggest assets as a sportsman or woman is your mindset.

If I was to ask you to name a situation where you feel pressure and nerves, you would immediately think of a golf competition or match. When we get in these situations we experience some form of stress leading to a number of body reactions. “The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety”, known as the Fight or Flight response (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). A scientific explanation to how we react in life or death situations ultimately, but I like to use this example when tackling pressure. We have two choices we either fight it, or flight it and give in to the situation. Hatton is a fighter and developed a great attacking mentality when it comes to being uncomfortable, unlike Rory & Tommy who succumb to it on Sunday. We see this happen a lot on Sundays, usually the younger, less experienced players slowly fall down the leaderboard whilst the cream rises to the top. But even with the best in the world battling it out, you have to be in control of your physical and mental game as playing in the final groups will brutally expose your weaknesses.

I think it is fair to say that technically, Hatton is by no means the best in the world but this victory shows that maybe technical ability isn’t as important as we once thought. Hatton knows his game, had a game plan and was able to execute it due to superior mental ability when it mattered most. If you want to be a good player then technique will carry you, but being a winner takes exceptional mental resilience. So what can we learn from this, well, when was the last time you worked on your mental game? Just using Tyrells example, there are a lot of attributes to his performance that we could take and implement into what we do. Here are some of the takeaways I took from watching him succeed:

  • Don’t be overcome by the situation – Stay present, focus on the job in hand.
  • How bad do you want it? – If you don’t have motivation to win, create it. Set scoring targets, statistic goals or margins of victory to work towards.
  • Stick to your game plan – Play smart. Don’t alleviate from the plan when it’s not going well. When there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • A good mental game can rescue a bad day – Finding your swing, battling back, improving rhythm etc. is never going to be easy when you aren’t on the ball mentally.
  • Fight till the end – Be strong, be gritty. Don’t let anything phase you.

As children we all learned by watching adults, people who were more skilled and experienced than us. Try and watch some golf on TV over the next few weeks, you will be amazed at what you can learn from the pro’s. And when we do get back out on the course, don’t flee from stressful situations, fight them.

Andy

Lockdown Listening/Reading List

Two posts for you this weekend, the first a list of rules to live by to make you a better player. This, the 2nd post, comes by popular demand. Here are my recommendations to keep you entertained over the next few weeks.

Listening to a podcast can be a great way of learning and keeping yourself occupied especially when out on a walk, driving or doing the gardening. Here are a few that I am listening to at the moment:

  • No Laying Up Podcast – the PGA Tour player interviewers are great, insightful, very relaxed and guaranteed to make you laugh.
  • Talent Takes Practice – Matthew Syed & Robbie Savage
  • Golf Science lab – loads of cool topics discussed on here
  • Hows my Hand Path? – more of a coaching podcast, if you’re interested in swing mechanics this is a great one to listen to.
  • Any podcast that features Scott Fawcett – course management expert with a ton of knowledge, search his name where you usually get your podcasts from.

There are too many golf books out there to count and most golfers have read the most popular names. In the list below are a few that i’d recommend that are a little abstract, and not neccessarily about golf that could really help your game:

  • Every Shot Counts – Mark Broadie. Fascinating insight into golf statistics, showing what really matters.
  • Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport. Really good read and great advice about using technology less.
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell. If you haven’t read it, read it!
  • Extraordinary Golf – Fred Shoemaker. One of the best, lesser known pieces of golf literature.
  • Breaking the Slump – Jimmy Roberts. A fascinating look into golfers who have gone through ‘slumps’ with their game and how they overcame them.

If you have some others that you think people will benefit from please share them with me. Stay safe and well.

Andy

10 Things I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago

Where were you 10 years ago? How was your golf game? 10 years ago I was preparing to embark on my university journey. A 17 year old with a seriously dodgy haircut who only really knew how to play golf, about to move to the deep south of America having never left home before…I had a lot to learn. 10 years on, I am so grateful for these years, and very proud of what I have achieved. But if I had a superpower, it would definitely be to turn back time and give myself the following bits of advice. I will elaborate further on some of these points later on down the line, but here they are in short hand in no particular order:

  1. What are you worrying about? Ask yourself this question, a lot! Relax, ensure you have planned correctly, made a smart decision on each shot and now it’s out of your hands. Commit to the shot, be determined and brave and if you need to, hope for the best! Watch where it ends up, chase after it and repeat…hopefully no more than 75 times.
  2. You do you – An obvious one but an important one to keep reminding yourself. Golf is the most individual game there is, no rights, no wrongs, just a big problem solving puzzle. The way you approach the puzzle has got to suit you and no one else. Use this advice when it comes to the decisions you make, your swing, equipment etc. Take pieces of advice from a wide range of sources by all means, but translate them to something that you can make work. Yes, this means not all youtube videos are going to help you! The ‘you do you’ phrase also refers to not caring about what people think. You may have seen in the shop at Worplesdon this particular hat, made by GFore, it may be gimmicky but so true. It teaches you to only worry about yourself, be a bit selfish when it comes to your game and ultimately, don’t worry if you shot a bad score, nobody will care the following day! Unless absolutely necessary, never NR, don’t be embarrassed we all have bad days. ‘Nobody likes a quitter’.
  1. Go play! Since finishing university, this has been one of the biggest changes I have made to my routine, and something I learnt in America. My teammates hated to practice and I loved it. I was an absolute range rat, hitting hundreds of balls every day and looking back I wasted a lot of time for the sake of hitting balls. We are all guilty of it, just remember, unless you are working on aspects of your swing, performance work (aiming/alignment/shot shaping) or testing yourself, then go and play. Even if you only have time for a few holes, it will be a much better use of your time than having no plan for your practice session. Differing lies, hitting off grass, more specific targets, hazards, varying conditions…there are many reasons why getting on the course in practice is much more beneficial. Play golf not golf swing.
  2. Quality over quantity – With the time constraints we all have in modern life, this is a really important one. Do not practice if you are not going to give it your all, period. Tired, distracted, mind elsewhere, in a rush, hungry…don’t bother. You’d be better off using your time at home stretching, planning, reading etc. The second aspect to this point is the amount of practice you do, you know whats coming…one basket of balls is plenty! I like to limit practice sessions to 45 minutes max as this is about the limit of quality human concentration. That doesn’t mean you can’t do multiple 45min sessions, just make sure you have a break between them. Try and rehearse each shot in practice like you are on the course, use your routine often and give each shot your fullest attention.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone – Possibly the best piece of advice I have been given over the last 10 years and one that has repercussions for all areas of life. I’m not going to go into crazy detail here as I could be talking all day but you will all be able to think of examples of where this is applicable to your game. My main focal point for this point is the following: you will not start properly learning and seeing progress until you get out of your comfort zone. Being well away from your comfort zone is when you start to properly test yourself. We can all hit good shots on the range/course when there is no pressure or consequence when we are comfortable, but can you do it when you aren’t? Whenever we are pushed out of this zone, we are highly distracted, nervous, worrying about other things and suddenly all we are left with is our natural instinct. That new swing you’ve got suddenly goes awol, we revert back to our old putting grip and all of a sudden we start moving backwards. Therefore, we have got to move the goalposts, we have got to expand our comfort zone. Keep putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, go and play with better players, go and play off tees further back, keep putting yourself under stress and pressure, because then when it does come around you will cope much better. Doing this in practice also really highlights your weaknesses. We’ve all gone and had an amazing lesson and then suddenly played terribly right after, it happens because the new skills are not cemented and not happening sub-consciously when they are tested. As the football analogy goes, ‘Can you do it on a cold, wet, windy night in Stoke?’ Keep saying yes, take every opportunity however scary, keep pushing the limits and if it starts feeling easy you need to stretch things further.
The comfort zone model, great for decision making.
  1. Be a sponge – Take everything in and learn, learn, learn. We are all students of the game and one of golfs greatest attributes is that it can never be completed, we can always be better. Learn from the good rounds and learn a lot from the bad ones, learn from watching others, professionals, books, the internet. Get as many ideas from as many sources as possible but you must digest, filter and interpret the information. Decide what is useful, figure out what might help you and never believe everything you read. Social media has bought this issue to fruition in recent years. We have access to too much information if anything, which is great, but not all of it will be relevant to you. Always remember there are no two ways to swing a golf club or play the game. If you want to try a new drill, new club, new approach please do, but please do your research and ask for my help and thoughts, it’s what i’m here for. Hopefully I will save you time, money and a whole bunch of shots that you could have cost yourself.
  2. Document everything – I’m a big advocate of a notepad, even though I have the worst handwriting in the world. Going back to the previous point, there is only so much our sponge can hold. We hit thousands of shots, have loads of swing thoughts, many lessons, watch far too many Youtube videos and all of a sudden our sponge starts leaking. We forget things. Keep notes on as much as you can, they will always be there to refer back to. Swing thoughts, focuses, song’s that were in your head, write notes on what was good when it was good, aka when you were playing well. What did it feel like? What did it look like? Why did you play well? During a rough spell this could be your get out of jail card and so worth the minutes it took to do. You can be as detailed with this process as you like. A personal favourite of mine is to document practice sessions, you quickly see where you spend most of your time and what needs more attention! P.S. It doesn’t have to just be notes, pictures are also great. Memories of great rounds, images and videos of great swings, times when you’ve loved you’re golf. Keep them, they may come in handy one day.
  3. Practice makes permanent, not perfect – What you practice will stick, don’t practice badly! This rule also helps to understand why it can be hard to make swing changes. Your swing is a result of repeating the same or similar actions hundreds and thousands of times. When we disrupt this pattern and make a change it becomes very easy to get back to old habits, especially when we are struggling. Practicing the new motion or swing change correctly, with the help of many practice swings, is vital. Let’s say you’ve recently changed your grip and used the new grip for 100 shots (having used your old grip for 50,000 shots) what happens when we switch off on the range and don’t concentrate for the session? I think we all know which grip is going to come out to play! We are creatures of habit, create the habit, embed it (dry reps & practice swings between each ball) and it’ll soon happen naturally. Not practicing is more beneficial than practicing badly.
  4. When things are good off the course, they’ll be good on the course – Look no further than the number of PGA Tour players who win tournaments right after having a baby or getting married. When life is good, golf is usually good too. Use this advice to manage expectations, especially when things aren’t going your way, the last thing you need is to worry about / hate your golf too. This advice should hopefully teach you the importance of a healthy life balance, lots of sleep, socialising, exercising, organisation etc. But if you are having a rough time, prepare for sub-optimal performance on the course. Accept the situation and ultimately make the most of your time out on there, enjoy it, especially the socialising and exercise. As mentioned previously, you can learn from every shot you hit, so even if you are having a terrible round you can still learn and get better. Be patient, good times are round the corner and good scores will come. Just don’t beat yourself up for a bad score when the dog’s at the vets, your kids are ill and you’ve got 145 unread work emails buzzing away in your pocket!
  5. Leave no stone unturned – The complexity of golf scares a lot of people and fascinates many. It gives us great opportunity and variety in the approach to ‘getting better’. As a professional, we are always looking for another 1%, a subtle increase in performance in a particular aspect of our golf to shave off one or two strokes per round. PGA Tour players have been saying recently that even flying privately between events saves them time, which equals more rest, which equals better play and better results, resulting in extra earnings that pay for the extortionate costs… it goes full circle. What i’m getting at is you need to take a holistic view of golf, look at the big picture. Analyse everything (in as much detail as you’d like) and keep stats where you can. How do you know you are getting better? How do you know what is holding you back? Why are you hitting thousands of balls on the range to go and have 40 putts every week? My job often involves uncovering the smallest and simplest of things that are costing you shots without you even realising. If you really want to get better, leave no stone unturned.

It’s easy to look back and regret or wish we knew these things years ago. Try and turn this into a positive thing, the quicker you implement them the quicker you will make up for lost time. Don’t forget, learning is infinite, you could repeat this process every 10 years for the rest of your life and never talk about the same things. Have a go at doing this yourself, you may want to include some of the points I made but you may also have a lot of your own. Trust your instinct.

Andy

Letting Go

A phrase I have found myself saying a lot whilst coaching recently is ‘let it go’. I think this has come from watching a lot of golfers play with fear, especially with the driver. I then stumbled across this picture from a fellow coaches twitter account and I thought it illustrated my point perfectly.

I am finding more and more that fear is one of the major factors leading to poor driving. Once the swing issues have been solved and we are set up correctly, all that is left to do is put your natural swing on it and ‘let it go’. I am constantly fighting people holding back, worrying about far too many things and ‘guiding’ it into trouble. A guide is a swing that is heavily manipulated to ‘just go straight’, that involves 25% less power that has equally as great a chance of ending up in the rubbish! The accuracy analogy I use here is throwing, when trying to hit cricket stumps how hard would you throw the ball? When aiming for the bullseye on a dart board, how hard would you throw the dart? When aiming for the front pin on the bowling alley, how quickly would you throw the ball? Out of a scale of 100%, I would expect your answers to be at least 75% for all these examples. Therefore, when trying to find the fairway, why are we ‘guiding’ the ball off the tee and not picking a small target and just letting the big dog eat!? ‘The greatest thing to be fearful of is fear itself’ a phrase heavily linked to a bungee jump or a skydive, and if you are struggling with your driving I want you to use this analogy. Standing on the tee (when you’re driving it bad) is like standing on the edge of the plane or bridge, all you’ve got to do is jump. The minute the jump is over people often want to do it again, why? Because the adrenaline you get from losing control is addictive. Therefore practice standing on each tee box without a care in the world, give it a rip, I think you’ll start enjoying driving again.

Another question I get asked a lot is how hard should I be hitting each shot? The answer is however hard you can in a repeatable manner without losing control, therefore, the result will change per person. One of the most common swing fixes your mates will tell you on the golf course is to ‘slow your swing down’ and it is one of the worst bits of advice you could receive (along with ‘keep your head down’). When we start to slow movements down, we lose a lot of natural athletic ability, our conscious mind takes over, small muscle groups engage and suddenly our brain has to start working overtime to try and figure out how the hell it is going to put club on ball. At the same time large muscle groups switch off and disengage, leading to poor movements (especially rotation) and we commonly see incredibly poor face control. Yes you read that correctly, the harder you hit a ball (and engage large muscle groups) the better face control you are likely to have and the more likely you are to square up the face. When the tennis ball’s flying over the nett towards you, you don’t pause for a second, think about how you are going to swing the racquet and then slowly guide it to the ball, do you?

And there lies the problem, time. In golf we have too much time. Too much time to think, too much time to worry. It wouldn’t surprise me if golfers were to score better with the ball being rolled towards them to start each shot. As a coach, you can often tell a player is going to hit a bad shot just by how much time they spend standing over the ball. So here’s the thing, control all that you can control, pick your target, make sure your set up is correct, make sure you are comfortable and then let it go!

Andy

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started