Confessions of a Hacker - Volume 2

Read the first installment HERE

From Hacker to Hero in 3 Months (and six years)

One of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen is Robin Williams’ golf skit about a drunk Scot talking to his buddy about inventing the game of golf.  I mean, this skit is pee in your pants, roll around laughing funny.  It’s the kind of video that you break out on your phone and show to your new golf buddies while you’re on the tee box waiting for the group in front to clear the fairway.  One of the lines in the skit is, “right near the end, I’ll put a flat piece with a little flag…to give you $#%*&^@ hope.  But, then I’ll put a pool and a sandbox to %$*& with your ball again!  Aye, you’ll be there thrashing your ass, jerking away in the sand!”

Yep, been there, done that, whacking away with a tire iron, trying to hit the little ball into a little hole. 

In the first installment, I talked about my golf woes, the lessons, the failures – hmmm, failures pretty much summed up my game the first six years or so I played.  And, to be clear, I wasn’t just a weekend golfer.  I played in a summer league (still do) every year, which meant about 20-30 extra rounds.  I get out during the week when I can.  I hit the range regularly.  Like any golfer who cares enough about his game to want to get better at it – I golf a lot, and when I’m not golfing, I’m thinking about it, reading about it, watching videos and tweaking my swing.

So, how did things come together for me?  Well, let me qualify what follows by first stating, unequivocally, these are fixes that worked for me.  Will they work for everyone?  Decidedly not.  One of my regular golf buddies with a handicap close to mine has a swing so unorthodox that when he looks at the rest of us pleading for us to help fix his next shot, we all raise our hands and take a step back.  No way, no how, pal!  We don’t know how he manages to hit the ball so well in the first place. Sure as hell ain’t going to try to tell him how to alter that spine twister of a swing.

With that said, here goes.

As a “feel” player, my biggest issue with developing a consistent swing, aside from the obvious failure to put in 8 hours a day on the range with a coach, was the inability to replicate my swing on a regular basis.  In other words, the two pros I hired were constantly giving me reference points in my swing like “when the club is parallel to the ground in the backswing, the blade should point straight up”. Or they would make statements like “at the completion of your backswing, your right palm should be positioned as though holding a waiter's tray.”

Okay, those tips were great when I was moving in slow motion during practice.  I had the best three miles an hour swing the game has ever seen.  However, when playing golf for real and trying to hit the ball anything further than the ladies tees, a swing speed of somewhere between 90 – 105 mph is more likely.  You can kiss all that slow motion crap good-bye as it flies off the end of your club left, right and out of bounds.

Here’s the thing, though.  I believed in the methodology.  Anything that is replicable is with accuracy and regularity is worth documenting and have a “system” applied.  There is a  problem trying to implement a standard golf swing.  It all depends on the quirks of our body style, height, weight, balance, eye/hand coordination, athleticism, flexibility and, on Saturday mornings, sobriety level.  Some of those things can change without warning, and are often not accounted for by a swing coach or golf pro. 

So, I figured my methodology would have to be a bit more universal, encompassing the entire game as opposed to specifically addressing my swing detail by detail.  Here’s how it works:

First the swing – I figured I would only work on the things in my swing that I could control and understand.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m at my full backswing, I have no idea which direction the club shaft is facing, the club head, my hands – any of it.  Even when I was taking the lessons on video, I could watch the video and make the adjustment to what my swing coach recommended, I found that once the camera was gone, I lost the feel for what was supposed to happen. The concentration on the video didn’t allow me to feel what was going on in my swing.

So, the three things I can control and “feel” in my swing are address/posture, takeaway and follow through.  That’s it.  I can’t control the downswing – it’s too fast.  Same reasoning for managing lag, slot or the 20 other things you’re supposed to pay attention to in a swing.  But, I can control how far away or close I stand to the ball, where the ball is in my stance when I line up to it, what angle and speed I take the club away from the ball and where my club eventually ends up.

Let me break it down – On address, I played with a ton of positions over the years relative to the ball distance from my body – stretched way out, in real tight, somewhere in the middle.  It turns out I get the best ball-striking results with all clubs when my lead hand is just inside my front thigh about a fist length away from my body.  That’s with ALL clubs.  I do not change this position based on which club I’m using.  This position does not give me the most distance – in fact, it probably costs me a half a club, but it does give me the most consistency in ball striking and a way to make the same swing every time.

On takeaway – Just before takeaway with my long clubs (driver, fairway woods, and hybrids), I collapse my rear leg slightly.  This technique allows me to get a bit more weight on my front foot, improving my balance and taking away my ability to compensate for weak form with my rear foot.  I pull the club back with a purpose, about the same speed at which you’d cock the trigger on a gun.  It’s not a quick motion or slow motion.  It’s deliberate.  It gets me to the top of my backswing without changing my stance or my address position.  It allows me to stop at the top ever so briefly before transitioning into my downswing.  Before doing this, I looked like every other weekend hacker on the course.  The quick takeaway, immediate transition to the downswing, usually before the backswing finished, and the inevitable crappy result.  I finally figured out that moving the club away from the ball had nothing to do with me hitting the ball and everything to do with me getting ready to hit the ball.  In other words, on the takeaway, I’m cocking the hammer, not pulling the trigger.

I mentioned that I don’t focus much on the downswing because at 100+ miles per hour, there’s not much I can do to control or affect it.  That is not entirely accurate.  I have a big rainbow-like slice.  It results from me getting through my downswing way too fast and opening up my lead shoulder in the attempt to get that extra umphh into the ball.  My solution to this is to keep my head down.  I mean down – like I’m still looking at the ground when the ball leaves the club – as in, my buddies better be keeping an eye for my shot, because there’s no way we are going to find it when I finally release my head.  It’s harder to do than it sounds, but it makes all the difference in my swing, keeps my lead shoulder tucked in and has me swing from inside to out.

Finally, the follow-through.  I think one of the biggest problems with golfers who have bad swings, including me, is that they are trying to hit the ball.  They are only thinking about getting the club back to the ball (and they start thinking about that before they even pull the club away from the ball).  But, that’s not the way a swing works.  The golf swing needs to be complete from back to front – the front part being follow through.  So, I now do two things – At address, I focus on an imaginary ball in front of the real ball.  That helps me with taking a divot and hitting my ball on the down stroke as well as giving me the thought that I have to swing through the ball.  And, I end every swing in a full follow through “pose”.  In fact, my buddies joke now about how I like to hold my pose.  Yep.  I do.  And, usually, they’re saying that after they’ve watched me hit a pretty dang good shot.

That’s it for the swing – for the most part, it’s a 4 ½ part methodology.  It has become a mantra for me, easy to remember and tweak during just one or two practice swings before stepping up to the ball for real.  “Fist away from the body, collapse rear leg, deliberate backswing, head down, follow through”.  Not a ton of details or adjustments, just a method to line up and hit the ball.  From driver to putter, my swing is pretty much the same. 

The second part of my methodology is the game.  As far as I’m concerned, golf is a game of distance.  Your distance from the hole dictates the club you will use.  Farther away, longer club.  Closer to the hole, shorter club.  In the hole, no club.  I want the ball in the hole and my clubs in my bag.  Done.

Here’s how breaking down the game works for me and affects my swing:  Driver, fairway woods, and hybrids - I’m swinging for the fences, baby.  That doesn’t mean I’m coming out of my shoes, though.  It means I’m using my baseball swing.  It’s flat.  At least, that’s the way it feels to me.  Most of the people that golf with me don’t notice and I’ve looked in the mirror and video at my club takeaway – it doesn’t look flat, but it feels flat.  I’m standing up straighter, and that changes the angle of my swing.  Honestly, sometimes my swing feels very flat, it seems like I’m taking the club away underhanded.  Doing this in conjunction with my swing method has virtually eliminated my slice.  I only had it with my long clubs in the first place, the flat takeaway (and resulting swing) have given me a fairly consistent straight shot and on good days, a draw. 

Mid-irons/approach shots.  I’m a sniper.  I’m pin seeking.  I’m not easing up on my swing and trying to control it, but I’m measured.  The most important thing for me in this part of the game is to let my swing methodology work.  With my irons, wedges and putter, I don’t collapse my rear leg before the takeaway.  No need to.  Like a military sniper, I set up on target, I cock the hammer, and I pull the trigger.  And, one more thing – If I’m too far out to use a fairway wood to get good position, I lay up.  My irons are my jam.  They get me into position to have the best game possible.  And my shortest iron is my sand wedge which is good for 80-90 yards.  I can comfortably control it at 65-70.  So, why then, would I pull a 225 yard 3 wood for a 260-yard shot?  Nope, let’s pick that five iron for 180 and then toss a sandy in close. 

Around and on the green.  This part of my game is where I crush it.  Chipping, pitching and putting.  Every time I line up over the ball, it has a chance to go in.  At least, that’s what I’m thinking.  Remember, I have the same swing here, too.  Chipping and pitching – I used to use different clubs depending on the distance I was from the green and placement of the pin, relative to the distance the ball would go in flight and then roll out.  Huh?  I know.  Now I use one club – my pitching wedge.  I use it just like a putter.  If I’m farther from the pin, I swing back a bit further.  Just on the fringe, I swing back only a few inches.  I’m always using a putting stroke and letting the wedge get the ball in the air. 

My putting stroke is similar to the first 4-6 inches of my regular swing.  A fist away from my body, deliberate backswing, head down and follow through.  An important note here – the follow through should be directly at the hole.  The back of my lead hand feels as though it is pulling the ball into the hole.

That’s it.  Not exactly in a nutshell and I probably created more questions than answers with this Reader’s Digest version of an article.  Again, this method works for me.  With losing 5-7 strokes off the tee, another 5-6 with irons and maybe 3-4 on my short game, I went from being in the high 90’s, and low 100’s to having pretty consistent 80’s rounds.   Do I have delusions of one day being in the 70’s?  Yeah, but, realistically, I’m cool with being in the 80’s.  I hold my own with my golf club and am better than most of the regular Joe’s we may get paired with for any given round.

But, let’s say none of this information works for you.  At all.  Don’t fret.  There’s still a takeaway here.  Find a method.  Play with your swing.  Don’t get buried in the details – those are for the guys that have the time to deal with them.  Figure out a swing method that works for you and marry it with your game management method and the strokes will fall faster than the pounds you’ve been trying to shed since the Holidays.  And remember, short and stubby, long and straight or barely past the ladies tees – it doesn’t matter how you hit ‘em as long as you’re having fun!

Post by The Foodie Whisperer