Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Understand Feel From Mechanics

Over the weekend I was discussing Homer Kelley’s ‘The Golfing Machine’ with a golf instructor and inevitably we discussed extensively about feel. The golf swing in particular is largely about feel. I think it’s mistaken that The Golfing Machine is just about science and mechanical terminology. The book is very much about feel, how to understand and develop feel and how to use feel to your advantage. In fact, I believe that it’s quite simple that in order to develop your ‘golf stroke’ (as Homer Kelley would put it), one must develop and understand feel. And I think Mr. Kelley would agree with me, the feel and mechanics *must* go together. Having one will likely not work without the other.


One of the things that Homer Kelley warned against was golfers ‘learning mechanics from feel.’ What does that mean?

We see this type of teaching, where the instructor teaches the student the mechanics of the golf swing by giving them a feel to work on.

For instance, if a golfer gets laid off at the top of the swing, David Leadbetter’s ‘prescription’ for that flaw is to have the golfer feel like they are sticking their thumbs in their right ear at the top of the swing.

Thus, the feel (sticking the thumbs in the ear) is supposed to get the golfer into the proper mechanics.

The problem is that the feel that may work for one golfer may not work for another golfer. And that is the flaw of ‘learning mechanics from feel.’ One golfer may ‘stick their thumbs in their ear’ and stop getting laid off. But another golfer that feel may not work at all.

Like I stated, we see this all of the time, particularly in popular golf magazines. In fact, Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett’s ‘The Stack and Tilt’ swing has a lot of talk about ‘recommended feels’ throughout the book.


Homer Kelley did advise golfers to ‘learn feel from mechanics.’ Meaning, get the golfer into utilizing the mechanics of the swing that they want to have and then let the golfer figure out what that feels like to them.

For instance, one of the things I’m working on is shortening my backswing down so I can stay more on plane at the top of the swing. Part of the issue I have is that I over-fold the right arm which causes a myriad of issues.

One of the things that works for me is that I feel like as my arm folds a bit in the takeaway, I then simply rotate the body and do not continue to fold the right arm. This feel that I’ve created for me works quite well.

However, for somebody else that may not work at all. And instead, they may be better off feeling like they are only taking the club ½ way back.


One concept that many golfers do not understand is that most of the time, the feel is not real. Let’s go back to my ‘shortening the swing’ example. For me, I feel like after the takeaway, I stop folding my arm. But the reality is that I actually do continue to fold my arm a little more. But this feel I am using prevents me from over-folding the right arm. And for the golfer that uses the feel of ‘take it ½ way back’, the reality is that they will take it more than ½ way back.


If the golfer can truly learn feel from mechanics, they will wind up automating their golf swing for a longer period of time. Meaning that they can now go to the course and say ‘here’s the feel that gives me good mechanics.’ In the case of shortening the backswing, I can just say ‘turn the body, don’t fold the arm’ and then I can rattle off good shot after good shot. And I can usually do it for an extended period of time.

The problem with most golfers who are supposedly ‘feel players’ is that they usually just wake up one day and make slight adjustments in what they feel in order to cure a problem.

For example, if a golfer starts hitting a hook, they may feel like they are trying to slice the ball in order to straighten it out. That may change the mechanics slightly to a degree and get you thru a round or two, but more often than not they are right back to changing their feel again to avoid their problem shot. The mechanics have not changed for the better, but they are more or less changing what they feel so they can adjust their *timing*. This is an issue because one cannot rely on timing when it comes to the golf swing.

Timing is prevalent in any swing, but relying on it is impossible to do. Some have better timing than others, but nobody can rely on timing alone. Those who have a more timing dependent swing will need to work a lot harder on the range to keep that timing in tact. Thus, they are not relying on timing, they are relying on extra hard work that they do in order to keep their timing in tact.


I get a lot of instructors who do not see the problem with recommending a feel to a golfer. For instance, a golfer with a long backswing that gets off plane may get stuck on trying to shorten up the backswing. After awhile the teacher may recommend a feel that other students have told the instructor worked for them. In this case, let’s say that feel is to feel like at the top of the swing the shaft is perpendicular to the ground instead of parallel to the ground.

But what typically happens with recommending feels is that the true understanding of ‘learning feel from mechanics’ gets lost. And instead of the student understanding the order of:

1. Get into the proper mechanics first
2. Figure out what that feels like
3. Use that feel to consistently execute those mechanics.

The golfer will instead start asking more for recommended feels and essentially just learn ‘mechanics from feel.’

In my opinion, I think recommending a feel should be a last ditch effort. Now if the teacher asks the student what the student feels but the student cannot quite articulate upon it, the teacher can always help the student articulate that feel so they can use it. But if the teacher is just say ‘well, some of my students feel like they are doing this’, then we start to get back to the realm of learning mechanics from feel, which is what we want to avoid.

If you want to ‘own your swing’, then you better understand feel from mechanics.


One of the things I highly recommend in order to make strides in your golf swing is to own a decent camera and learn how to operate it.

My camera of choice is the Casio EX-FH 20

This camera is a digital camera and camcorder all wrapped in one. It can film the swing in high speed like this:

It can also record the swing in real time speed as well in a swing picture sequence mode like this:

I got my Casio, brand new with everything included, for $240. I had an 8mm camcorder that did a good job, but only filmed at regular speed, that I purchased for $175.

For the regular camcorders, you need something with a high shutter speed. At least 1/2000th. My regular camcorder went up to 1/10,000th shutter speed and thus I was able to see it more clearly. But I feel the Casio line of cameras are well worth the extra money.

Ben Hogan loved to use mirrors and wasn’t a fan of cameras. But the problem with mirrors is that what you do in a mirror is often very different from what you do in reality. Plus, cameras were not that prevalent and didn’t have quite the technology that we have today, so that may have been a good reason for Hogan eschewing them in favor of mirrors.


I would recommend setting the camera up about 15 feet away from the ball. Then I would zoom in to the point where you can see your entire body and the club.

From the DTL view, I would setup the camera so it is in line with the toe stance line, NOT the target line. The issue with setting up on the target line is that it will make your swing look more on plane or under plane than it actually is.

From the caddy view I would recommend the same thing, 15 feet away and then zoom in until your entire body and club are in the shot.


There’s a few good ways to work on this. For starters, you can simply take full swings, record them, and see what the mechanics are and figure out where you want to be. However, that is not nearly as effective as other methods.

One great method is Ben Hogan’s ‘swing in slow motion’ method.

This will make it so the golfer can more accurately execute the mechanics and because they are moving slowly, they can better grasp what it feels like.

Another good method is to do the ‘9 to 3’ drill (‘acquired motion’ in TGM).

One of the things I stress with the 9 to 3 drill (aka acquired motion) is that if you cannot execute the mechanics properly with that ½ swing, then how are you going to execute them properly with a full swing?

Those who are patient enough to do these types of drills and to work on the mechanics FIRST and then work on the feel SECOND, will reap the rewards.


Lastly, I think simplifying the feel is important. I think if one starts to think of too many feels or they are too complex with what they want to feel, then that 'paralysis thru analysis' starts to rear its ugly head.

I would probably recommend no more than 2 feels that you are working on in a golf swing. Anything more than 2 starts to lead to mental breakdowns too often.

Another idea is to visualize the feels. Somebody who gets the shaft too laid off in the backswing may want to visualize somebody like Ricky Fowler who gets the shaft very upright and just say 'Ricky Fowler the backswing.'

Or sometimes I'll come up with my own description of the feel. For instance, when I try not to over-fold the right arm in the backswing...I try to not fold the arm anymore after I hit the takeway.

In order to simplify the description of the feel, I tell myself 'use a one piece backswing.' This description is how the backswing sort of feels much like a one piece takeaway, except it's the entire backswing that is feeling like it is going back in 'one piece.'

I suggest if there is any new mechanics that you are working on that you constantly use your camera on the range to make sure those mechanics are in tact. After awhile you should be able to figure out the mechanics and then if you choose to do so, get another lesson and figure out with your instructor what you want to work on next.



NYC Lagster said...

Well written!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I wish you could follow up on this topic :)

gprogpro said...

Excellent post,extremely helpful.

Unknown said...

The statement; "feel is not real" reminds me of a short story of a golf instructor who wanted to film his student. The student asks what swing do you want to film; my Hogan swing, my Trevino swing or my Couples swing? And the instructor says, "lets film all three." And guess what; they all looked the same on video..

David Wedzik said...

We use feeling and sensations quite a bit in teaching at our academy, and I believe they are important. There is, however, a process to this and it is similar to what Richie describes here. We first try to get the student to understand and know what "correct" IS and what THAT feels like...then we work with them to come up with the sensation that gets them back to that correct position effectively (we're known to bounce things off them as well as ask them to describe what the right position "feels" like to them)...then that feel becomes THEIR OWN. Interesting thing is how very often the feels are different for different students even if they are working on a similar problem/piece.