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Monday, 1 August 2016

You Don't Hit the Ball With Your Backswing

Golf is a simple game that has been made extremely complicated.  Golf involves hitting a ball with a stick towards a target.  It's as simple as that.  Now, while the ball has improved significantly from the days when we used featheries, and the sticks we use are better, the game remains the same.  We are still hitting a ball with a stick towards a target.

So to be the best golfer we can be, we need to be able to pick the right target and then figure out how to hit the ball in such a way that it flies, or rolls, most consistently towards the target. One of the mistakes I think we make when trying to learn the game, particularly as adults, is that we choose as our models world-class players.  If we don't happen to be blessed with tremendous timing, dexterity, strength, and flexibility, our efforts to mimic the swings of these world-class players inevitably falls way short.

In order to hit the ball straight at our target only two things are necessary--actually I guess there are three.  At impact the clubface must be aimed at the target.  The clubface must also be moving towards the target, or along the target line, and we must strike the back of the ball.  That's it.  What happens before or after impact is of little real consequence as long as those three conditions exist.  

Regardless of the differences in the swings of all the best players, they all look pretty much the same at the moment of truth when they are striking the ball.  And yet even at impact the great players might still look slightly different.  What looks the same, however, is what the clubface is doing.  For a straight shot it is moving down the target line, it is aimed at the target, and it is striking the back of the ball.

Now this may sound simple--perhaps even too simple--but it is the truth.  Not every top player holds the club the same way.  Not every top player keeps their left, or lead, arm straight.  In fact, not every top player does anything exactly the same as every other top player except strike the ball.  Because the results, good or bad, are all down to the strike.  

That's why Bobby Jones said that during competition he focussed intensely on the strike.  He trusted his swing to take care of itself.  Bobby, like all golfers, occasionally found himself thinking about his swing.  But he had a very special teacher in Stewart Maiden to occasionally remind him of the simple truth about the game.  He told him things like, "You don't hit the ball with your backswing, laddie."

After being distracted by swing thoughts, I eventually get back to just trying to hammer an imaginary nail right into the back of the ball at the equator, straight down my target line.  When I do my ball-striking instantly improves.  My shots are much straighter.  The ball flight is more piercing.  And I have far fewer fat or thin shots.  This works just as well for chipping and putting.  It's a thought that I've seen work like a charm for others as well.  You just hammer the nail.

Why don't I hammer the nail all the time?  Because It's probably too simple, and because I'm obviously not the sharpest knife in the proverbial drawer.  I eventually get distracted and start thinking about my shoulder turn, or whether I'm bracing my right knee, or whether I'm taking a big enough backswing...  It's not very smart.  But then, no one ever accused me of being smart.