Saturday, 6 May 2017

Are You Swing Oriented?

Jim Barnes once told a young Bobby Jones: "Bob, you can't always be playing well when it counts. You'll never win golf tournaments until you learn to score well when you're playing badly."

With respect to this admonition, Bobby wrote in his book Golf is my Game:

    "I think this is what I learned best of all. The most acute, and yet the most satisfying recollections I have are of tournaments won by triumphs over my own mistakes and by crucial strokes played with imagination and precision when anything ordinary would not have sufficed. And I think I was able to do this because I learned so well what a golf ball could be made to do and how it had to be struck to make it perform as I wanted it to."

Notice Bobby said he "learned how it (the golf ball) had to be struck." He didn't say he learned how to swing the club in such a way as to make the ball perform as he wanted it to. There is a big difference in Bobby Jones' approach and the way golf is generally taught. Bobby focussed on the strike. Most teachers focus on the swing.

And while modern teachers may know a great deal about the golf swing, it appears that many of them have not done a very good job of conveying the message to their students about the strike. The golf ball only reacts to how it is hit. It is not impressed by the swing. And while this is, or should be, obvious, it is generally overlooked by players and teachers alike who remain "swing oriented."

I know this to be true as a result of the number of times I've asked a golfer to show me how the clubhead should strike the ball to produce a straight shot. Most of them have no idea. Or if they do, the question seems to surprise them so much they have no response. Clearly, they are not thinking about the strike when they play.

I was on the range in South Carolina this winter and there was this fellow from New York who was really struggling. He couldn't seem to stop slicing the ball. I heard him asking a young lady, who plays college golf and was hitting balls nearby, if he should be strengthening his grip. She seemed to think it might be helpful, but was clearly more concerned with working on her game than giving golf tips--and rightly so.

When he set up beside me to hit balls, we exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then he informed me about his slicing problem, asking for my opinion about his grip and whether he should strengthen it. Unable to resist, I suggested he leave his grip alone and then took his club and showed him how the clubface should be moving through impact to produce a straight shot--namely straight down the target line with the clubface pointing, or square, to the target. I suggested he just strike the ball that way.

He tried to replicate that strike and was suddenly hitting mostly straight shots, even hitting some draws instead of slices. He was thrilled. He was also amazed that without mentioning his grip, or his swing, I had managed to get him hitting the ball so well. 

Of course, it wasn't magic. It was just Bobby Jones' teaching in action. This fellow was apparently a good baseball player, so he was obviously athletic enough to hit a golf ball. He just needed to know how he wanted to hit the ball, instead of thinking about how to swing the bat. When we learn how the ball must be struck, and then just focus on striking it, really good things start happening. We may not be able to swing like Freddie Couples, but we can all figure out how to strike a golf ball properly, provided we are shown the proper strike.