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Can Anyone Learn to Swing a Golf Club?
Anyone can learn to swing a club, and play golf. Golf is like any other game; it is a compilation of a number of skill sets. One must learn to swing a club, to move the ball; one must learn to aim, to move the ball in the correct direction; and the object then becomes moving the ball proficiently around the hole and ultimately around the course. The object of golf is to score as low as possible. This article will discuss the swing itself, but do not think that a great swing instantly makes a great player. There are many skills to learn in playing any game, and golf is not different.
If you have been on a driving range, you must agree it is quite an interesting amusement watching all of the different methods people employ to move the golf ball. You have seen the chop, the push, the scoop, and on and on. It is amusing at least and excruciating worst, but entertaining none the less. Have you ever wondered why people swing the club the way they do? Are they mimicking a tour pro, or are they making it up on the go? The answer is that they do what they think is correct. This is not a characteristic only of golfers; this is a characteristic of anyone trying to learn a new skill. Boxing, lawn mowing, baseball, hammering, whatever the skill may be, there are different takes on how to do it. So as we watch the folks hit balls at the range, can we conclude that there are many different ways to skin a cat and one method is not better than the other? Yes and no; as long as the method employed allows you to move the golf ball from point A to point B efficiently, then yes. If you can consistently move your golf ball as you predetermined, then you are playing golf and your swing is O.K. However, if the method that you use is inconsistent, unpredictable, and limited, then no, your swing is not as good as it could be, or should be.
So how do you know if your swing is O.K.? If you are eating with a knife and fork and you are getting the food to your mouth in proper bits, assuming no bodily injury, then you are probably wielding the eating tools properly. I know, I have seen it too, the off person who holds their fork like a bicycle grip, but the food is consumed, and these folks are not losing weight, so they know how to wield a fork. The same is true of golf; we have seen many different swings, with different looks, but they cannot be called wrong if they produce the desired results. So the determining factor as to an efficient swing and a bad swing can be pared down to results. Does the swing in question produce good results? This is a simple concept, but some may argue what constitutes good results, and I must say this is an individual thing. A beginner may consider his swing a success if he can get the ball airborne. An expert would only consider his swing sound if he can consistently and on command move his shot as he has drawn it up in his mind. Ben Hogan said that he only hit about 3 perfect shots per round. Ben would move his ball toward the hole; if the pin was on the left he would draw the ball in, starting it at the center of the green and working it toward the hole. Likewise with a right side pin placement, Ben would fade the ball into the pin location, starting the ball in the center of the green and curving it toward the hole. If Ben decided to fade a ball into a right hand hole position and the ball ended in the middle of the green he would consider that a miss hit shot.
You are not Ben Hogan, but a good golf swing for the average player, needs to accomplish a few basic requirements;
· The swing must allow the player to hit the ball first and flush, meaning ball then ground.
· The swing must allow the player to produce adequate distance.
· The swing must allow the player to adjust and control trajectory and spin.
Some of you may want to add to this list and please feel free to do so, but I believe these three elements make up the basic criteria of a good swing. If you can do these things, you can play golf. Before we move on to how to accomplish these basics, I must point out that if you cannot do these things, it does not necessarily mean your swing is incorrect, it may mean that you have not mastered the skills yet. Remember, golf is an athletic action which requires some athletic timing and ability. Kicking a football is an athletic action that most of us can do, but as an athletic movement it can truly be mastered only by a great athlete. Golf is like that as well; only great athletes can ever hope to be top players. But unlike football kickers, average golfers can actually become quite good and compete at very high levels. Just remember that golf is an athletic movement and a lot of our failure in golf can be laid at the feet of poor athleticism.
All of that being said, golf is not high jumping; an average person should be able to average 80 around a par 72 golf course with little trouble and a sound swing. Before you write me and tell me that you know people with good swings who cannot break 80, I will tell you that there is more to golf than a good swing. Most talented players, who cannot score, do not score well because they do not know how to play golf. In case you were not listening; swinging the club is not playing golf, it is an element of golf. So what is the first fundamental of the golf swing? The first fundamental of the golf swing is to understand how to use the golfing tool. Remember the golf range, and the folks scooping their way to bad golf? These people scoop, because the golf club looks like it is made for scooping. In reality, the club does resemble a big spoon. The club has loft designed into the head to lift the ball in the air, right? So the beginner thinks that he needs to get under the ball. In reality however, the golf club is a little more dynamic than it looks. In fact the golf club is quite an ingenious design of physics. The club is designed so that the user can use it by applying only one force; tangential force! I know you all have heard that the golf swing is all about centrifugal force and on and on, blah, blah, blah. Well I am not a physicist, but I did take physics in school and I know that centrifugal force is an imaginary force. What? Yes, you heard me, there is no such force of physics.
Look it up, centrifugal force is an idea, a concept to explain appearances, not a real force! So since we have cleared that up, we can dismiss the idea of applying a non-existent force to the golf ball. I only mention this because the idea of centrifugal force actually puts the picture in our mind of a club flying around in a circle and merely picking the golf ball up at the bottom and lifting it on its way. If this is your picture of the golf swing, I recommend that you rethink the golf swing. The club head does not trace a circle; in fact the head does not really trace any geometrical shape, but if pressed I would say it traces somewhat of an ellipse. Now please, do not think that I am arguing circles or squashed circles to be a smarty pants. These concepts are very important to visual learners. Some people can do anything they can visualize; these people must be made aware that the golf club does not swing in a circle, constantly being pulled outward. First and most important, this is not what is happening, and second it is not the picture you want in your mind. Remember, if centrifugal force were a true force, and you really swung the club centrifugally, then if the club head flew off during your swing (based on centrifugal force) it would fly directly away from you. For example if it flew off right at impact it would fly right into the ground. Now anyone who has ever had a club head fly off at impact knows that it does no such thing, it in fact flies out in front of you, down the target line. Why does it do this? It does this because the force you are applying to the golf ball is tangential force, not centrifugal force. Simply put an object traveling in an arc will leave the arc on a line tangent to the arc. This means that tangential force will move the ball, or the club head if it flies off, directly down your line of play. So it has taken me a while to get there, but what this means to you is that you only have to apply tangential force to the ball, meaning hit it flush in the back and the ball will travel forward. Your job is to apply this forward momentum to the ball. The clubs job is to apply trajectory and spin to the ball.
If you learn nothing else from this article, please learn that the golf club is designed so that you only need to apply that one force. You make the ball go forward; the golf club will do the rest. That is why you have 14 clubs to choose from; sometimes you want the ball to go higher, sometimes lower. The club will take care of trajectory, spin and distance; all you do is apply the force. For the most part, on full shots you apply the same force for a driver as you do for a seven iron. They go different distances and fly different trajectories, but you have done nothing, but apply the same force to the back of the ball. That brings us to hitting the ball flush. To make the ball fly straight you must contact the ball directly in the back of the ball, generally near the equator of the ball. If you think about your golf clubs, you will notice that when you putt the putter will contact the ball directly on the equator. If you hit it below the equator the ball will loft in the air and if you hit above the equator you will pinch it against the ground and it might hop a little. If you have read any putting books you might have been taught to forward press your putter (meaning leaning your putter handle forward of the blade and ball). The reason some teach this is because putters like all clubs have loft and if you sole your putter with your hands directly in line with the ball and the head of the putter you will hit the ball slightly below the equator and the ball will loft in the air. Keep in mind that the putter was designed to do just that, hit the ball up into the air slightly and then roll out. Some teachers do not like this effect on slick greens, so they advise the forward press with the hands; this takes loft off of the putter allowing your stroke to catch the ball directly in the back, on the equator.
When you catch the ball directly in the back you will impart maximum forward momentum. This is true in putting and it is true with every club in the bag, so if you know your goal is to hit the ball in the back, and you know that with the club perfectly soled with your hands in line with the ball you will contact the ball under the equator. Your goal with most clubs is to apply maximum force to the ball so you need to contact the equator, if you contact below the equator your shot will fly higher and shorter than you desire. Therefore it is common sense that at impact your hands and the grip end of the club must lead the club head past the ball. Remember to contact the equator of the ball with the sweet spot of the club the loft must be turned down! Meaning hands ahead with a descending blow.
Now that you know where to hit the ball for the perfect straight shot, it should not be too far of a stretch to figure out how to hit higher or lower shots. For the perfect straight, long shot every club must lean forward at impact; in fact a wedge will lean more than a seven, which will lean forward more than a driver, but the hands will never be behind the club head. If you ever have a chance to see yourself on camera, take a look at your hands at impact. In relationship to the ball and the club head, your hands should be slightly in front. If they point at your belt buckle, or worse, you do not have an efficient swing and you cannot play consistent golf. If your hands are ahead, then your swing can produce solid contact and maximum distance. For those of you who do not get into this position you must learn how to do it. Now this is a problem, because to properly swing down and through, a golfer needs to produce adequate lag and pivot in his swing. And quite frankly these are athletic movements. You have heard that the golf swing is a marrying of an arm swing and body turn. Unfortunately that is true; I know you were hoping to hear otherwise. The good news is that it is not super hard to accomplish this move to some degree. The bad news is that if you cannot turn through the golf ball you cannot properly compress the golf ball and take your divot on the pro side (in front) of the ball. I mention divot, because if your divots start at or just past the ball it is a pretty good bet that you are contacting the back of the ball properly.
So watch to see where your divots are appearing, you need to move them forward to play consistent golf. So you need lag and you need to turn through the ball for your swing to consistently contact the ball in the rear. Lag simply is a term which defines how much angle you have between your lead arm and the club shaft on the way down to the ball. At some point that angle will reach 180 degrees. Remember at the top of the swing you want 90 degrees and as you swing down that angle increases until after impact and then it resets in the follow through. The reason you want to retain some of that lag (meaning impacting the ball before your angle hits 180) is so that your club head bottoms out in front of the ball, not behind. That move will guarantee that you contact the ball directly in the back. But that move is not done in a bubble; if you swing your arms and do not clear your body, you cannot hold onto that angle. In fact, if you keep light pressure in your low hand (right for righties) and gently turn through your shots with your body, you will create the lag you need. This really is quite easy and can be accomplished by any coordinated person. You can also preset this gentle turn through the ball by playing with an open stance. There are many methods; you will find what works for you.
The killer of a good swing is the hit impulse. Remember back on the range, and the choppers that we saw? The hit instinct is the strongest natural force in golf. Remember I spoke of the myth of centrifugal force? Any golfing physicist will verify the hit instinct force, this force is not imaginary, but it can be overcome, maybe. You cannot develop lag in your swing if you hit at the ball. The very act of hitting will release the angle that you stored at the top of the swing; you must relax your grip (especially in trailing hand) and gently pivot your body through the ball and into the through swing. Only until you develop effortless power can you play the game well. If you hit at the ball, you will produce powerless effort. An affective powerful swing comes from proper ball contact, from a club travelling on the proper path. If you can hit the ball in the back consistently you can control the curve and trajectory of the ball. And if you can control the ball effectively then you have a good swing.
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