Sunday, October 4, 2009

Month Five - My Breakthroughs

It was a long arduous road from the day the thought of playing golf occurred to me and the first swing I took in an actual game. I learned a lot during that four months. I made some breakthroughs and I want to share those breakthroughs with you.

The best thing to happen to me during this period of time was the improvements in my physical conditioning and the loss of weight. This was a breakthrough! During this four month period I lost 26 pounds and four inches off my waist with no dieting or change of my eating habits. The only difference was I was much more active swinging the golf clubs. I made it a point to swing the clubs 3-4 times a week. Either in the yard with plastic practice balls or at the driving range. The weight loss aside, I couldn’t believe the changes in my physical conditioning. This alone was worth the thousand dollars I had paid out to this point. It was certainly cheaper than a heart attack!

Also, this was one exercise I would actually do. I have spent way too much money on unused work out equipment. Let me think, there was the treadmill, the cross country ski machine, the weight bench(s), the glider and the cross country trainer. The universal gym was my favorite. With it’s multiple work out stations and over head gizmos and gadgets you could hang a lot of clothes on it! Then we had the bikes and they were great fun, but they were a pain to load up and unload and load up and unload each trip out and back. My point is, this is one exercise I will actually do! And I can do it almost anywhere. I can even do it sans-ball in the parking lot beside my car at lunch.

The stretches I do before playing were very helpful. As a matter of fact I try to do them every morning. There are just three stretches I do. I found them in a free publication I got when I subscribed to Golf Digest magazine. The pamphlet was called “Breaking 100-90-80”. These stretches were referred to as the “only three golf stretches you need to know”. And I believe it. Doing these stretches properly takes about 6-8 minutes a day. Time well spent if you ask me.

According to my chiropractor I have two minor misalignments in my spine. One is in the thoracic region which is between my shoulder blades. And the other is in my lumbar region or my lower back. It had been months since I was at the chiropractor’s office and I was in need of a tune up. The third morning I did these stretches I felt my spine shift a bit between my shoulder blades. I had felt this sensation before during the adjustments I had received from the chiropractor. A week later I felt the same thing in my lumbar region. I am not a trained medical professional, but these stretches, done carefully and properly, were good for me! The realignment of my spine was gradual and natural so do your stretches regularly.

Another breakthrough I had was when I was overwhelmed and forced to break down the swing into pieces. I worked each piece until I had that piece down consistently.

Getting the grip down solid was a big step. I use a modified Vardon grip. There are basically three types of golf grips. The Vardon (hands overlapping slightly, pinky and pointer interlocked), the modified Vardon (same grip but not interlocked) and the baseball bat grip. When I got the grip down my ball flight consistency really improved.

Next I worked on my setup. Specifically, how I addressed the ball. I worked on the distance I stood from the ball. I worked on how far forward or back in my stance I placed the ball. It varies according to club selection and lie angle. When using the driver the ball needs to be farther forward. When using irons and wedges the ball needs to be further back.

Learning to keep my wrist flat in the downswing was another breakthrough. Again it added consistency to my swing especially on the longer clubs. Absolutely work on this.

Take a couple of practice swings before you hit. Just take a couple of them though, three at most. Try to swing like you are going to hit the ball. Concentrate on smoothness, smoother is farther.

Work on your short game. Chipping, pitching and putting. It’s a lot of fun to rip the big dog and watch the ball fly downrange. It’s hugely rewarding. But I am reminded of the golf adage, drive for show but putt for dough. You only hit your driver once on a typical hole. As a beginner you will hit your putter at least twice each hole and probably more than that. So practice your putting. Progress on putting will help to lower your score.

Do you know the difference between chipping and pitching? I didn’t. Gary McCord describes it this way in his “Golf for Dummies” book and I paraphrase. Chipping is low and mostly on the ground. Pitching is high and mostly in the air. Practice these aspects of your short game.

I use a nine iron for chipping, thanks to my son’s advice. Club selection for chipping differs from golfer to golfer. Some players even use clubs specifically designed for chipping called, believe it or not, chippers! Use the same club for chipping each time. Get used to how it feels and plays.

I use my lofted wedges for pitching. This part of the game still alludes me so I won’t pretend to offer any advice other than this, work on the things you are worse at. These are the things that we need to focus our attention on the most. It is our nature to want to do the things we are good at and to avoid the things we are not good at. So work on the things that need attention.

Also try to develop a pre-shot routine. This was huge for me. A pre-shot routine is preparing to strike the ball. Do this consistently each time. Approach the ball the same way. Line up the same way. Step up the same way. Get your grip the same way. Waggle the club the same way. Sole the club the same way. Watch the pro’s on TV or the internet, they will all do these things the same way every shot.

As far as equipment goes, get a set of clubs. Any set of clubs. Get an interim set of clubs to learn with. Use these clubs to learn and develop your skills. Then later, work with a pro to get a set of clubs that are right for you, clubs that fit you. I wish now I had stayed with my old clubs longer and gotten a pro’s advice before purchasing my new clubs. Work on your conditioning and swing first. At our level of the game the club is not as important as learning the fundamentals of your swing. When your true swing develops, then you can talk to a pro about the clubs you need. He will know if you need offset clubs, standard length or lie, which grip and shaft is right for you, etc.

And lastly, take lessons from a local pro if you can. I have not started my formal lessons yet due to scheduling conflicts. But I will and I’ll relay those experiences to you when I do. There is no substitute for professional one-on-one instruction for faster game improvement. Any golf shop or course will either have an instructor or will know where to send you. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. The pro at the driving range I frequent has been a huge help to me, offering some free advice.

That will about do it for this episode kids… I have some other topics planned for the blog. I’m going to post a “What’s In My Bag” blog describing the brands and type of gear I use. It is just about complete. I have some other ideas in progress, too. One describes my first golf outings and what I learned from them. Another is on the current state of my game… that should be good for a few laughs!

Thanks for following me and I hope my posts help you. Hit ‘em straight!