Tip of the Week

I was stunned recently when a junior golfer I was with didn’t know who Jack Nicklaus is. I did, in a loving and professional way, slightly admonish his Dad who was standing nearby. So, this weeks golf tip is for the youngsters who need to know and for everybody else who wants to hear some really great tips.

Jack Nicklaus – Golf Channel 12 Days of Instruction 2010 – YouTube.


Golf Tip of the Week – Driving

I know lots of people don’t like to read stuff about how to golf. I also know that a picture is worth a thousand words – BUT – Harry Vardon (Google him) had some very interesting things to say about driving the ball and hitting fairway shots – two areas where so many golfers get stuck, obsessed, and even angry!  Vardon thought that driving the ball and was among the EASIEST shots in golf.  Stick with the read – it just  might free you up on the tee.  (Highlighted text is mine.) 

220px-HarryVardonThis section is from the book “How To Play Golf“, by Harry Vardon,  1912. Also available from Amazon:How To Play Golf.

Chapter V. How To Drive

THE easiest strokes in golf are, I think, shots from the tee with a brassie and from the fairway with an iron. Therefore I would suggest to the beginner, or to the person who is almost resigned to mediocrity, that he should settle down at once to the task of mastering those shots. They are not difficult; but they are impossible unless the player knows how to swing the club properly. The golf swing is different from anything else in sport. It deserves to be called an art. There is only one way of executing it correctly. At least, that is true of its fundamental features. From time to time one hears and reads of various kinds of swings. Years ago, for instance, the talk was all of the St Andrews swing. That swing consists of sweeping the club round the legs until the arms will allow it to go no farther without moving the body, and then bringing the implement back in order to be able to raise it comfortably. To all intents and purposes, it is a matter of going out of the way and having to return to the right track. When the upward swing is three-quarters completed, the adept at the St Andrews method is on the same track as any other proficient golfer at the corresponding stage of the ordinary swing. The latter has simply gone straight to the point, while the devotee of the St Andrews style has taken a round-about route. Sometimes one hears of a good player having a “flat swing.” I venture to say that if the swing is correct, it cannot be “flat.” Again, the expression means that the player starts on a track which he must abandon. A person who never soars above a half-swing may certainly make it a “flat” one, but he will not often be a good golfer.

I do not suggest that the afore-mentioned variations in the early part of the full swing are necessarily fatal. What I do say is that they are useless, and that, from three-quarters to the top, and thence to the moment of impact, there is only one proper course for the club-head to follow, and that all accomplished players follow it. It requires a genius to start on the wrong track and get on to the right one.

There are people who declare that the perfect way to learn golf is to learn it backwards. That is to say, they advocate a scheme whereby the beginner practises putting for a start, and works his way by a kind of inverted curriculum – the mashie, then the iron, then the cleek– until he studies the full swing with wooden clubs. At first blush, the idea may seem to have something to recommend it. For one thing, it is novel, and a novelty generally possesses a degree of charm. What, however, contributes most to the plausibility of this plan is the fact that the player is taught to hit the ball farther and farther and make his swing longer and longer. There is an appearance of logicality about the notion of beginning in a small way and gradually rising to the glory of long hitting.

A little reflection, however, will show that such reasoning is a delusion where the study of golf is concerned. If the short shots were easier than the long ones, it would be all right, but it so happens that approaching is about the most difficult part of the game. As for learning to putt first, I should imagine that anybody would become heartily sick of the business before he had half completed it. I do not know when a person can be said to have learnt putting. There are certain points well worth studying in connexion with it, but there is no infallible prescription for making the ball go into the hole every time – or even every other time. I wish I could discover one. In connexion with the full swing, there are golden rules which can be learnt, and the practice of which will produce success. And it is best, I think, to begin with shots for the practice of which there exist plenty of data.

Therefore, let the neophyte, or the player who fears that he is an incurably bad golfer, resolve to master first of all the way of executing a shot off the tee with his brassie. This is the easiest full shot in the realm of golf, and the accomplishment of it always affords a thrill of pleasure and encouragement.

Moreover, once he has made himself proficient at it, the knowledge thus acquired will be a considerable help to him in playing the more difficult strokes. I suggest a brassie rather than a driver, because the former, having a slight loft on it, generates the greater amount of confidence. Moreover, as it is the less whippy of these two wooden clubs, it is the simpler to control. The methods of making a shot from the tee and a shot from a good lie on the course are – or should be – identical. The skilled golfer often employs his driver with great effect when the ball lies on the fairway, although, in such circumstances, it is perhaps a little the more difficult club to wield satisfactorily. The beginner cannot do better than seize upon the easiest stroke of all, which is the brassie shot from the tee. Once he is master of it, he will find the driver joyous to use. The two clubs being of the same length (it is important to see that they do not vary in this respect), the driver will be much the same in his hands as the club with which he has been practising. The troublesomeness of its straight face, which at the outset might have been considerable, will be unrecognized now that he feels sure of hitting the ball, and, what is equally important, he will have made a friend of the brassie. The latter is often regarded as the hardest club to use on the fairway. That perhaps is only natural. On the tee, the ball sits up temptingly, entreating a strong blow. On the turf, it seems to be sitting down, and there arises the necessity of picking it up cleanly, and, at the same time, hitting it with all the neatness and power that were inspired by the sight of its shining face raised clear of the ground. Therefore, the player is in every respect well advised in getting on good terms at once with his brassie. Let him have a low tee (the lower, within reason, the better) and, in due course, the driver will present no trouble to him, and the brassie, when he takes it for a shot through the green, will be an old friend. For, as I have already said, the methods of using the two clubs should, under favourable conditions, be exactly the same. When the lie is unfavourable there are certain variations which can be explained later.


Golf Tip of the Week – Keeping it Real

Jim Flick passed away in November of 2012. He was one of golf’s most respected and honored teachers.  Flick thought that the majority of amateurs should be simply trying to swing the club with their arms and hands and allow the body to support that simple motion.  Ernest Jones (Google him) thought much the same way.  He also thought that being more engaged with the target than the ball was a better way for most of us to play the game. Sadly, this thinking is not very popular today and the reasons why can’t be addressed in today’s post. I will however, present an expanded article in the next few weeks on this subject. In the meantime, please give careful consideration to Jim Flick’s article below.  I’m not certain, but I believe it was his last posting for Golf Digest.  I’ve highlighted the points that are the most interesting.

Practice To Play

Stop thinking mechanically and become more confident on the course 

Jim Flick
Illustration by Dan Page
November 2012

I hear this all the time from average golfers and even struggling tour players: “I hit the ball great on the range, but I’m a different golfer on the course. I don’t have the confidence to make the same swing when I know a bad shot will get me in trouble.

Confidence comes from controlling the ball, but how do you go from hitting solid and accurate shots on the range to producing those same shots on the course? It’s helpful to understand the four stages of becoming a confident player:

  • First, you are unconsciously incompetent. You have no idea what to do in your swing or how to get there. This is the stage in which you learn the basics of the swing.
  • Second, you are consciously incompetent. You know what you want to do with your swing, but you can’t do it. You use drills prescribed by your teacher. It’s helpful to place rods or clubs on the ground to set up a “learning station” to check your alignment.
  • Third, you are consciously competent. On the range, you hit balls to perfect your swing, but you have to think mechanically to make the shot happen. Because you’re using verbal cues and thinking of positions, you often lose your tempo and rhythm.
  • Fourth, you are unconsciously competent. The best golfers compete in this stage. On the course they think about the conditions, select the right club, and play shots from point A to point B by focusing on the target. They no longer think about positions but feel how to use the club to create shots.

So how do you get from the first stage to the fourth? As Jack Nicklaus once told me, “I practice mechanics and play by feel.” Remember that practicing and warming up are two different things. When good players practice, they break the swing down into mechanical parts and then put those parts together to control the clubhead–and the ball. This is the only time these players think about swing mechanics. When they warm up before a round, they forget mechanics and rehearse hitting shots to various targets, creating playing situations. Seve Ballesteros would “play” entire holes before his round: Replicating a par 5, he’d hit a driver, then a 4-iron layup then a wedge approach. When he got to the first tee, he felt he’d already played a few holes and was in the rhythm of the round.

A strong picture can override a flaw in your swing to produce a playable shotOn the range, practice visualizing the entire shot, the ball curving in the direction you want, then landing where you intend and rolling to your target.Use the same visual technique when you hit real shots on the course. You’ll be on your way to playing your best golf ever.

FLICK, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional, is based at the TaylorMade Learning Center, in Carlsbad, Calif.

Dan’s additional comment: In the end, trying to make a golf ball go where you want is a physical activity not a mental exercise. There is a visual-neurological process happening that is more biological than it is in-swing processed mechanics. A common name for all of this?  Hand-eye coordination.  Swinging a club and striking a round piece of plastic can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I think simple as possible is best but I see most golfers making it as difficult as possible. What do you think?


How to Learn a Golf Swing

Here are the things a player needs to do to learn how to swing a golf club:

How to hold the club in your hands so your hands do not fight each other
How the design of the equipment dictates how it is to be used
How to stand at the ball so you can swing in a way that fits your body style, flexibility, strength
How to aim at a target based on how you see the target
How to learn what an entire swinging motion feels like physically – from beginning to end
How to practice the swinging motion as an entire thing, not as a bunch of parts

How to KNOW where the ground is on the way down to the ball and on the way up from the ball
How to learn the relationship between your hands and the clubface
How to learn that YOU are physically in control of the clubface
How you can make adjustments and make the ball do different things

Learn how to become aware of physical sensations when you hit golf balls
Learn to know where the golf club is at all times during the swing (google proprioception)
Learn how the hands and arms are used for speed
Learn how your lower body, from feet to hips, are used for stability

Let me know if you have any questions.

—-Dan Hernandez, PGA


Golf Lessons Taboo

Title revision, June 2013

The term “golf lessons” is a necessary evil in the business of teaching. Personally, I hate the term because to most golfers, having a lesson conjures up all kinds of bad things. The list of reasons players stay away from lessons is long and you’ve heard them all before.

As a professional golf instructor, teacher, and coach, I do become dismayed at times by the number of people who clearly want help but are afraid of having a “lesson.” I don’t blame them. Unless one is famous, teachers are quite often viewed as an enemy, as one who is just trying to fill up a lesson book, make some money, and could care less about whether or not you actually get better.

Here’s a better way to think about lessons:
Keep it really simple and realize that you probably could use help in some area of your game. Time with a qualified instructor doesn’t always mean just working on your full swing and changing everything. A real teacher wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t do that anyway. There are so many areas of the game that continually need some sort of attention, it’s practically impossible that a student couldn’t use some sort of help.

Here’s a sample conversation that could get you started:

“Hey Dan, my golf swing has gone to hell and I think I know what the problem is. Could you spend a little time with me and help me sort it out?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to help you, we’ll have some fun and work it out. Do you think you want to see it on camera in the studio”?

“No, I’ve been using my phone so I know what it looks like. There’s just one spot that looks funny to me.”

“OK, sounds like you’ve been working hard. How about tomorrow afternoon? We’ll spend 30 minutes or so and see what’s happening.”

“OK, thanks pro. See you tomorrow.”

Here’s another sample:

“Hey Dan, I’m playing pretty good these days but I just don’t have the confidence I know I should have. How about I buy you lunch and pick your brain about some stuff I’ve been thinking about?”

“Wow, I love lunch and golf talk. I’d be happy to do that with you. That’s why I’m here.”

All golfers need some sort of help – the game is just too hard to always go it alone. Hell, I’m a golfer too and I am aways learning something new, even after 30 years of teaching. . I bust my ass everyday teaching, doing research, being on the golf course, talking to people, and hitting balls when I am able. I learn from all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways. I especially learn from my students – I mean really, it’s mostly the students who have taught me how to teach.

That said, here is something I learned just yesterday from a student: “Golf is like one of those construction jobs that never gets finished.” Very funny and very cool. Golf is like that isn’t it.