Friday, February 24, 2012
Going From a 'Feel Player' to a 'Mechanics Player'
One of the questions I often see on forums is a golfer asking about going from what they call a ‘feel’ swing to a ‘mechanical’ swing.
I think the problem that these golfers have is that they don’t quite understand the role of mechanics and feel in the golf swing and how to best utilize them. Not to worry, I think almost every golfer has struggled with this at some point.
I think most golfers start off with some basic mechanical tips. Like how to grip the club, how to address the ball, and even ‘keep your head down.’ From there they may be taught little things like ‘if you want to hit the ball higher, move the ball position forward’ or ‘turn the face over to hit a hook’ (yes, a faulty way to hit a hook, but a mechanical tip nonetheless).
And what tends to happen early on is that they will use those simple feels to self-correct problems on the course. They may start off hooking the ball and move the ball position back in their stance and all of the sudden they stop hooking the ball. That’s their interpretation of being a ‘feel player.’
Bubba Watson and Tommy Gainey are usually crowned the kings of the ‘feel players.’ Bubba Watson is particularly noticeable as he may get up on a hole and feel comfortable hitting a giant hook off the tee and then he will clearly turn his wrists over thru impact to hit that hook. Then the next day on that hole he may feel more comfortable hitting a giant cut and take a swing where he clearly ‘holds off’ in order to hit a cut.
I think there are few major disconnects people have when it comes to understanding feel and mechanics:
1) Feel and mechanics are NOT exclusive from each other. You can (and I recommend) using both.
2) Feel players like Watson and Gainey do consciously change their mechanics.
3) Mechanical players like Robert Rock do use feel.
4) Mechanical players like Robert Rock do hit shots that they feel most comfortable hitting.
FEEL PLAYERS CHANGING THEIR MECHANICS
Statement #2 probably drew the ire of some people. But, when a player like Bubba Watson goes onto the course and is struggling with his fade and then may alter something like his ball position or ‘holding off’ more, he IS making a conscious effort to change his swing mechanics. Even something like changing the ball position by an inch will alter some swing mechanics to a degree. Otherwise, Bubba would never attempt it.
The difference is that a player like Bubba and Gainey probably have little idea as to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ a small change may alter the results. Whereas a more mechanical player like Charlie Wi may understand that by moving his ball position slightly backwards, the distance between the ball and the low point becomes greater which will steepen the attack angle and likely cause the path to go more inside-to-out. Thus, if somebody like Wi is hitting high cuts that he doesn’t like, he may move the ball position back in order to hit a lower draw shot.
It’s not to say that one is ‘good’ or one is ‘bad’, but more to clear up the misconception of ‘feel players’ who are actually making a conscious effort to alter their mechanics.
GOING FROM FEEL TO MECHANICAL
I think where most golfers have issues making the change from that ‘feel player’ to the mechanical player is that they wrongly assume that mechanical players don’t use feel. That’s actually incorrect.
A ‘mechanical golfer’ may want to alter the mechanics of their backswing because they believe it is affecting their downswing. For instance, a golfer may want to stop over-swinging in order to improve their shaft plane in the downswing. But, they may utilize a feel in order to prevent them from over-swinging like feeling like they only take the club 3/4 of the way back or stopping their backswing when they feel that their thumbs are pointing directly towards the sky.
REALITY AND FEEL
One of the biggest common mistakes golfers make is that they often believe that what they feel when they are swinging the golf club is what is actually happening. For example, a golfer who takes the club well to the outside may be taught to take the club more inside. And that may feel to them like they are whipping the hands so far inside that they are going behind their rear hip.
What often happens is the golfer will THINK that they are taking the club too far inside and it doesn’t feel comfortable to them. But, in reality when viewed on camera that could be far from the case.
In my mind, understanding that usually the ‘feel is not real’ is a giant piece in understanding your swing better and how to alter the mechanics on command.
LEARNING FEEL FROM MECHANICS
If there’s an irony to The Golfing Machine book it’s that for all of the technical jargon and debated science, it’s a book that has a system for the golfer to develop their golf swing by learning how to best incorporate feel into their swing. Every now and then some critic, who probably has never read the book or taken the time to understand it will talk about how it takes the feel out of the swing for the golfer when in reality it does the exact opposite.
As Kelley had stated, most instructors teach mechanics from feel. For instance, they may want a golfer to stop being laid off at the top of the swing and tell them to ‘feel like you are sticking your thumbs into your right ear at the top of the swing.’ The thought is that when they do that, the golfer should stop getting laid off at the top of the swing.
The problem is that the feel may work for one golfer, but not the other. And the other issue I find is that the golfer can often times over-do it. In this case, it may be common for the golfer to go from being laid off at the top to being across-the-line at the top.
I often have instructors tell me that they ‘recommend feels.’ The problem I find with that is they usually wind up neglecting to explain the mechanics that they are trying to alter to the student. So you often wind up with 2 scenarios:
A) All the instructor is doing is teaching ‘feels’ and in reality, teaching mechanics from feel.
B) Because the student doesn’t really understand the mechanics, they are not really ‘owning’ the feel and that feel will quickly ‘wear off’ after the lesson and then they cannot develop a new feel because they don’t understand the mechanics to begin with.
Personally, I believe recommending feels as a last resort with golfers. And only after they have learned the mechanics.
I hear a lot of people talk about teaching the game in ‘simple terms.’ But, teaching things in ‘simple terms’ does not equate to being a ‘good teacher.’ Good teachers find a way, come hell or high water, to get their students to understand the subject matter regardless of how difficult it is. And many times that cannot be done by teaching things in simple terms. Perhaps the teacher needs to teach the subject matter in small pieces or teach it in reverse order or use illustration. But, when all is said and done the student has to understand what was being taught.
BACKSWING VS. DOWNSWING MECHANICS
Where there’s a conundrum in golf is the fact that golfers do not actually hit the ball anytime in their backswing. However, there are plenty of times when in order to change the downswing mechanics and to change what is happening at impact, the golfer may first have to start by altering the backswing mechanics because their current backswing mechanics have put them in a position from which they cannot consistently make the proper amount of compensation on the downswing.
It does not always happen that way. Sometimes downswing mechanics need to be changed purely in the downswing. But, I find it’s usually a little bit of both. The golfer has to alter some of the backswing mechanics along with some of the downswing mechanics.
From my personal experience, I find that the more one has to work on the backswing mechanics and incorporate that feel for those backswing mechanics, they more likely they will struggle with their ballstriking.
That being said, that does not mean you should never concentrate on altering the backswing mechanics. It just means that you should recognize that you will probably struggle a bit when you are working on the backswing mechanics and once you feel like you have changed those mechanics and can execute them comfortably, then your ballstriking should really improve.
If I’m just thinking about downswing mechanics or address position mechanics, I’m usually fine. It’s a big reason why I don’t agree with ‘you can only think of 2 things at once.’ I actually believe that is an inaccurate depiction of the capabilities of the human brain. I just think that when you start thinking about backswing mechanics, it more difficult for the typical golfer and is more or less an necessary evil.
But in the end, I find that the successful ‘feel golfers’ like Bubba and Gainey are more the exception than the rule. And if their ballstriking dramatically regresses and the normal things they do to improve don’t work, that’s when golfers like Bubba and Gainey get into real trouble because they now have to figure out the mechanics that they don’t understand and they may have to seek a teacher who truly knows the mechanics or can put them in better mechanics. And since they don’t really understand the mechanics to begin with, they run the risk of going to an instructor who has a better ‘sales pitch’ over being a better instructor.
I think the main factor holding players back from understanding the mechanics is the fear of failure and confusion. But, I think it all stems from not understanding how to incorporate both feel and mechanics into their golf swing.