Thursday, October 21, 2010
3Jack Swing Update, A Story
The day after my 2009 2nd place finish in the club championship, perhaps the toughest question any golfer can face arose ‘now what?’
I had quit the game for eight years and got back into it on January 2, 2009 and fought and grinded my way from a 5 handicap to a +1.7 that year. That eventually led to that 2nd place finish with rounds of 75-76-75 at Windermere GC and Olde Atlanta Club in the suburbs of Atlanta. The eventual winner is now a mini-tour pro and former D-II Collegiate All-American. The 3rd place finisher is a former mini-tour pro and the 4th place finisher was a former pro who still owns and operates his own golf instructional school.
So there was a bit of a pad on the back for myself finishing 2nd and playing pretty well with this type of competition in 2 rain soaked days and one very nice day. And that was hitting 37/54 GIR and for the life of me not being able to buy a break on the putting green. But the ambiguous question of ‘now what?’ remained.
How good will I get?
Is that the best I can do?
What do I need to do to get better?
What do I need to avoid so I don’t get worse?
And plenty of other self instrospective questions.
Strangely enough, what largely kept me going in a sense is what drove me away from the game for eight years. Back in 1999 I shot the then course record at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club of a 64. But the previous day I had shot an 88 at the same course.
That’s right, a 24 stroke difference in less than 24 hours at the same course.
Most would have probably taken great joy in the achievement alone. But for me it was the every grueling battle of improbable, roller coaster-ish type inconsistent play. And that’s a brutal roller coaster to handle because one minute you feel like an extremely talented player, the next minute you feel like the biggest hack of all time and then the next minute you feel like there’s so much untapped potential.
And the latter drove me away from the game for eight years. I had become disillusioned about the game and in particular my own game as well.
Back in high school I was one of the best junior golfers in the state of New York. Eventually a car accident left me in the hospital for 10 days and when I got back, I had completely ‘lost’ my golf swing. I went from being a very solid ballstriker with a solid overall game, to hitting it sideways…in roughly 10 days.
Eventually it was decided that I needed to get my clubs ‘fitted’ for my swing. I stand at 6’4” tall and had a pretty decent growth spurt from the age of 14-18 and it was deemed that my clubs were just ‘too small for my size.’ That led to me bending my old Ram FX Tour Grind blade 5* upright. That worked for awhile, but my ballstriking got progressively back to its lousy old self.
From there, my college coach more or less demanded that I start playing with cavity back irons. By then I had developed a borderline exceptional short game. I could chip, pitch, flop, blast and putt with about the best of them. Unfortunately, a day of ‘flushing lasers out there’ for me was hitting 13 greens. So my coach said I needed to ‘play for my misses’ and that cavity backs were the answer.
But since they were made out of cast, I couldn’t bend the 5* upright. So instead we put shafts in that were 1” longer than standard and got them 2* upright. And because the shafts were so long, we had to have graphite shafts installed.
In time that led to my swing and ballstriking further dissolving into a mess and I started to believe that the game was mostly about talent because most instructors didn’t know much about mechanics or how to teach them. And that 6’4” golfers were faced with the problem of having to hit more ‘normal’ equipment specifications, which is extremely difficult to do at that height and requires more ‘talent’ than mechanics.
Fast forward to late 2008 and I decided I wanted to get back into the game. It’s a fun game and this time I was bound and determined to really discover how I can create a good golf swing for me to tap into all that potential whether it killed me or not.
And that’s why I kept going when that question ‘what’s next?’ was posed about 1 year ago. Because from January 2009 to October 2009, I discovered a ton of those answers or was headed in the right direction. And probably what was just as exciting to me is when I would get an answer, discover its flaws, and then would learn from that mistake and become more adept at deciphering accurate answers from inaccurate answers.
You see, like most people as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to know myself more and my tendencies and what my reactions will be. I also have gotten better at understanding how I learn things the best. With golf, I realized that I absolutely needed to know the ‘how and why’ instead of just the ‘how.’
Because for me I may learn the how, but eventually I may stop doing the ‘how’ exactly the way it’s supposed to be executed or I may be doing the ‘how’ pretty well, but other things may arise and cause shots to go awry. But if I know the ‘why’ I can better understand the ‘how’ and I can better troubleshoot problems.
I think this is a huge problem with golf instruction across the board…even with TGM Authorized Instructors. There’s a large belief in the golfing community that you don’t need to learn the ‘why’, just the ‘how.’ But my assertion is that idea just leads to more confusion and doesn’t help golfers. I feel more golfers, from a mental standpoint, are more like Hogan than they are like Fred Couples. Sure, it would be nice to just naturally step up there like Freddy and not think and blast a driver 340 down the middle. But the reality is that most golfers need to know the ‘how and why’ of the swing, work at it, troubleshoot it which will add their own elements of the swing, and continue to work at it.
I think the problem is that golfers usually go for ‘tips’ and even lessons and it eventually doesn’t do them any good because they don’t improve and they think that they ‘over-analyzed’ the swing and it didn’t do them any good. The truth is that they really just got bad information and had a poor gameplan to improve their swing.
And that’s why I created this blog, as a place where golfers could hopefully get the accurate ‘why’ and ‘how’ to the golf swing instead of just the ‘how’ and if they got a ‘why’, it would be largely inaccurate.
Eventually this led me to Ted Fort
had worked with a TGM instructor back in college, but he was unwilling to go too much into TGM. And while I liked most of what I understood about TGM (which was little), I didn’t really have an idea how valid it was, but I believed that I should learn it and then I could figure out what parts I liked and didn’t like. And if I decided to look elsewhere for help with my swing, I could use the TGM knowledge to help decipher the quality of that instruction.
One of the many great things about Ted is that in my first lesson with him I told him that I fully intended on understanding the book and was looking for an instructor who wasn’t afraid to go into the terminology and answer questions I had specifically about the book.
Ted eagerly looked forward to it. Although from my experience watching him give lessons, he only gets into specific TGM jargon if the student is looking for it.
Ted’s strengths are how he relates and gets along with people. While I believe it’s incredibly important to understand the physics, geometry and biomechanics of the swing, I believe that golf instruction is a ‘people business’ first and foremost and all of the knowledge of physics, geometry and biomechanics cannot overtake that.
And I mean that Ted is exceptional in the ‘people business’ and is probably in the top 3 that I’ve ever seen. Truth be told, as a Yankee, I’m somewhat averse to southern people. I do have plenty of southern friends, but in general it’s hard for me to relate to southern people because of the culture clash. But Ted is one of those people that relates well with any type of person regardless of where they are from, gender, race, handicap, golf experience, etc.
He’s also excellent a key point of golf instruction that every legitimately good golf instructor *must* be good at….being able to tell when the student does not actually understand the instruction being presented to them.
This is difficult for instructors because a lot of times students will tell you that they understand, but they really do not. But Ted is one of the best at deciphering that and then providing alternative ways to get the student on track.
And true to his word, Ted answered every question I ever had on The Golfing Machine. It probably seems like nothing to him, but I think he would be surprised at how many TGM AI’s are unwilling to answer those questions that students have. Which is really silly because I think the problem that students have is that they don’t know what questions to ask and are often too afraid to ask questions at the risk of coming off impolite or stupid…so if I was an instructor I’d love to answer any questions a student may have.
But after the Club Championship I had a bit of a dilemma in that I was very curious about some of the MORAD golf instruction as well as getting the idea of moving to Florida. Plus, that winter in Atlanta was very cold and we got a ton of rain.
I wound up giving John Dochety (aka Lake1926) a try as he’s a MORAD golf instructor based out of Tullahoma, TN.
Lake gave a fantastic 2-hour lesson that was only $50 per hour. We discussed a lot about the swing in particularly how to better save the right arm, the wrist conditions, shoulder plane in the downswing, etc. And I was hitting the ball better than I had been in the previous few months.
But the issue became that:
1) It was a 3.5 hour drive from Atlanta to Tullahoma, in the very hilly Tennessee mountains.
2) I was contemplating moving to Florida
At that time I was reading a lot of posts from John ‘Lag’ Erickson and his thoughts on the swing and the game of golf.
Typically I would be a bit put off by people who want everything to ‘be like the old days.’ A lot of my feelings are along the lines that guys like Snead and Hogan would readily hit titanium drivers if they were available and that there are some factors that have changed to make golf courses harder these days to offset the changes in equipment which have made the game easier. Plus, the difficulty of the game has its advantages and drawbacks. It certainly does attract people to the game because it’s an ongoing quest for excellence, but it also detracts people from the game because often times the harder the try the worse you can get. So in many senses I’m all for making the game easier to play because if we lose golfers, then we won’t have courses, cool technology, golf industry jobs, etc.
One thing that really appealed to me about Lag’s posts were his thoughts on equipment. In particular favoring muscleback blades over the bigger cavity back irons. Preferring persimmon to titanium. And Lag is the first person to ever tell me that the upright lie angles, lightweight clubs and oversized heads with thicker soles was hazardous to the development of the golf swing and that a big reason why a swing will devolve will be due to just switching from a muscleback blade iron set to cavity back.
At that time I also started reading Michael Lavery’s book ‘Whole Brain Power’, which discussed things like refining your motor skills and Lag’s assertion on equipment made even more sense.
More upright lie angles mean that in order to hit it flush, the downswing plane needs to get steeper and the handle needs to be raised higher. And if you start using more upright lie angles, you’ll just work to incorporate those upright downswing planes and higher handles into your swing.
Thicker soles are there so you can get away with catching some turf earlier than you should. Basically, it’s there to help you not worry about controlling the low point and if you stop having to worry about that, you’ll eventually lose the precision in your low point control. And the same with the larger sweetspots.
I also noticed that lie angles today were much more upright than clubs of yesteryear. And then I recounted about how as a junior golfer I would often switch between blades and cavity backs, but I always remember hitting the blades better than the CB’s (which is why I would often go back to blades) and then I realized the true importance of equipment feedback. And then I remembered just how much my swing eroded as I went to cavity back irons with +1” graphite shafts.
So I joined Lag’s Advanced Ballstriking Modules and thought that if I didn’t like it, I could just quit and not invest too much time or money into it.
I actually started striking the ball quite well for awhile. Especially after Module 2. I remember on Easter of this year when I flushed my 1970 Hogan Bounce Sole 1+ 6-iron something like 30 times in a row on the range. And I’m talking pure flushed. Then I hit the next 50 or so that I either flushed or hit very well and it wasn’t until shot 85 or so that I hit one poorly.
And it showed up in the scores as well, with a 66 at Hamilton Mill GC (very tough course) and a 67 at Olde Atlanta Club (not so tough, but extremely difficult greens to make putts so your ballstriking has to be on to shoot 67) and a 65 at Windermere GC. And all of those courses have slopes in the 140 range.
But eventually I moved to Florida and moved onto Module 3 and I started to struggle a bit. A big part of the problem was the struggles I had with the backswing, getting laid off and that was causing me to come over the top. And since the ABS program has its own set of steps to developing the swing and Module 3 is a very taxing module physically, I was hoping to go back to more of a standard golf instructor-student relationship.
Which eventually led to me to a 1-day clinic with Dan Carraher (iteachgolf)
Dan held a 1-day clinic just outside of Orlando and it was a lot of fun. In fact, he’s holding a 2-day clinic in Orlando on November 6th and 7th along with instructor Nick Starchuk.
In just 1 day I actually learned quite a bit and far more than I ever expected. Things like the left arm and right arm positions at the different spots in the downswing and follow thru and how that effects ball flight. Simple steps on how to fade or draw the ball. Shortening the backswing can lead to more power by staying on plane, etc.
And I noticed a big increase in power, too.
After that club championship that was a big point of emphasis for me because when you’re hitting it about 260-270 off the tee, even if you’re extremely consistent and accurate, you need to be an unbelievable putter (I don’t have those short game skills anymore) in order to keep up with top level amateurs.
I figure at the top amateur level, you need to consistently hit it about 285 off the tee at least and hit your 3-iron on average about 225 yards at the very least because the long par-4’s and long par-3’s will require that you parachute an iron into the green with some spin on it and the hybrid is too risk most of the time or probably won’t get you within 30 feet. So at that level, while I think accuracy and distance control is the most important part of iron play, distance does have it’s importance as well and being able to hit it high with power.
That’s really an endorsement of Dan’s great teaching skills because you will always hear Stack and Tilt critics claim that the S&T swing is not very powerful, but yet I increased power after the clinic. But another endorsement of his teaching is that the reality was that his instruction didn’t ‘feel’ very Stack and Tilt, it just felt more like a very different way at looking at the golf swing (which I feel my blog is about, too).
But the issue here became that Dan’s plan is to hold 1 or 2-day clinics across the country and he would be in Florida about once every 3 months or so. And one of the things I’ve learned and learned to accept is that when I’m learning something new about my swing, I’m better off going about once every 3-4 weeks to start off with and then eventually as I start to make noticeable progress, I can come back less frequently.
I think one of my assets as a student is that I pick up things in general, very quickly. But I need those things to be compartmentalized and prioritized and the 1-day clinic is a bit too much information that I struggle to prioritize.
So that put me with George Hunt out of Orlando.
George is a MORAD instructor out of Rio Pinar CC which is about 10 minutes from where I live. In essence, I got what I wanted…it just took me a year to get there. I got a MORAD based instructor that was a short drive away and I had access to get lessons from for about 1-hour, once every 3-4 weeks to start off with until my swing starts to take more and more shape.
I won’t go into too much detail other than to say that my grip, stance, takeaway, left wrist, etc have all changed in my swing and I’m starting to show flashes of hitting the ball extremely well. In fact, I hit the longest drive since I got back into the game with a 312 yard drive, on an uphill slope at Eastwood GC and a damp fairway from a rain day (no wind as well).
I haven’t put tape of my swing on the blog recently because it is getting darker out earlier now and the picture doesn’t show up well and I also figured it would be neater to see something that was close to the finished product.
But with all of this, I’m afraid that people may misinterpret my thoughts of the quality of these instructors. But I can tell you confidently that not only do I believe they are excellent instructors, but I still talk about the swing with them from time to time and I would still get a lesson from each of them.
However, my main goal was to always know the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the golf swing and allow that to propel me into better golf and enjoying the game more. There’s only so much you can learn from one person, regardless of how brilliant they are. In the end, it wasn’t about ‘dismissing’ instruction, it’s about reaching the goals that I set out for myself so I wouldn’t get disillusioned and frustrated like I was 9 years ago when I quit the game.