Everyday, I see and talk to amateur golfers. I am always listening to what they are saying and trying to understand things from their perspective. I always here the same things over and over. Here's a small list:
1) It's Easy to Swing without the Ball
2) But I've Heard this, and I've heard that.....isn't that doing x,y,z wrong?
3) Why is it so hard to do this on the golf course but easy during a lesson?
So I got to thinking (again) and I got to researching (again). I applied a little dab of logic to the process and I came up with some key aspects which I now outline and explain to golfers to much success when I help them understand the why's and not just the hows.
The golf swing is 100% controlled by the subconscious mind which relies on continuous input from a number of parts of your body
Your body will always try to rebalance itself and it will use the subconscious to do so, which means your conscious mind has little to no control on these adjustments
Your Clubs and their swing weight, balance, lie angle, length will massively affect your balance and there isn't anything you can do about that. So clubfitting is all about balance and nothing to do with distance. Yes, controversial I know!
If you stop your body from moving and being natural, you will lose
The set up and positioning of the club throughout the swing has to be in perfect balanced movement otherwise we will engage the subconscious mind to make adjustments so we don't fall over.
Now let's dig a bit deeper
The Subconscious Mind and it's Masterful Control on our Body
I have a 1 year old son, who is just starting to walk. I can see his body doing many fine muscle adjustments based upon what is happening during his attempts to walk. It is incredible to see all the little muscle contractions that are happening and movements in his toes and feet that affect his balance. The body is incredible. I am also sure he is not consciously aware of it, so it is all happening in the cerebellum. Have a look below at the different functions of the brain areas:
The cerebellum is of course linked to the other areas of the brain like vision, perception etc. but it is taking constant balance measurements from the following parts of the body:
Ankles - Constantly giving feedback about the surface hardness, the angles of ankle bend, and the pressure exerted upon each ankle
Skin - the stretch of the skin across our body and the degree and severity to which the skin is stretching.
Eyes - visual target and object based input
Ears - the inner ear structure senses the bodies orientation in relation to the earth (keeping us upright since we walk upright on two feet)
The constant feedback into the cerebellum is controlling the way that the body moves, behaves and acts. We can easily see this when people talk, their hands move in opposing motions, we aren't actually aware of the center of gravity on our feet when we are standing, or when we are walking. We can feel it, but we don't consciously control it. These things are formed during our first years when we learn to walk and the body learns what it has to do to stay upright and not fall over.
Humans hate to fall over, which is why we get scared of falling or rollercoasters, why we hate to be suddenly pushed, bumped or run into. It's a threat to our ability to stand and function as a human. We don't like that, and our brains try to avoid it. Same goes for golf.
When we start to swing the club our brain senses immediately its movement. It knows that something is pulling on it. We can feel it in our feet, we can feel it in our hands and fingers and we feel it's momentum. When we go to a golf lesson we are looking to engage our conscious mind to perform a certain task. That conscious mind is full of silo'd information that isn't helping your balance.
Your subconsious mind knows that something is pulling it around and changing your center of gravity, and so it doesn't care what you are trying to do, it will always override your conscious mind. That's when student's say, it's easy to do with no ball but hard to do with the ball. That's a clear indicator to me that the conscious mind is engaged in hitting an object and not engaged into balance.
Similarly, I inherit many students from other lessons and the idea of not moving is the wrong approach as the conscious mind tries to stop the subconscious mind from doing its job, which is interacting with the golf club. So the minute you try to restrict movement, you are fighting a losing battle. It doesn't usually stick and therefore the student goes back to their old ways.
So what do we do to try to stop this. We employ a few "unpopular" golf myths and ask students to start doing them. We'll make a small list of faux pas that we ask our students to do in the interest of learning how to train your subconscious mind into a pleasureable movement:
We insist on a proper set up which includes 90 degree angles and the center of gravity being on the balls of the feet and not flat footed or on the heels as is taught as correct
We ask students to shift their weight into their back foot and move their heads back (yes, for both irons and driver)
We ask students to place the ball to their left side to promote a visual cue that the body should be moving forward through the ball (kinematic sequence)
We ask students to rotate the club in the back swing to create angular momentum in the golf shaft and free up our torso movement and rotation of the upper body
We ask students to have high hands at the top of the back swing
We ask students to let the club release left
We ask students to finish with their left elbow back and the weight on their left heel every time.
When we start to move, something magical starts to happen. Students start to hit the ball, they immediately gain distance, they say it "feels" more natural, they stop having aches and pains in the back, their hips, their fingers and they start to be able to draw the golf ball from right to left.
These results engage a pleasure sensation in the brain which helps to signal the brain that this is a good movement and one that is pleasurable, instead of a move which is restrictive and goes against the very design and function of your mind. That's how people get better and stay better.
How Do We Improve our Subconscious Interaction with our Golf Swing?
So, let's have a quick look at these lines I am talking about and you will see what I mean about balanced set up, balanced movements and some of the unspoken about reason why the best in the world are the best in the world:
The above iron swing set up shows that the ball is forward of the center and when Ernie Els shifts, the ball is in the middle at impact. If you start with the ball too far back, your eyes and brain will never let you shift your weight properly. I see the ball in the middle garbage being taught each day. Ball position is the generation of so many swing faults and it is so easy to get it right. It needs to be left (Always).
When We Hit a Golf Ball, we Move Laterally
When we start the backswing, we have to let the golf club take our weight into the back foot, which is the right foot for most golfers. You can see that clearly here. It is also prevalent in almost all ball sports that you have to shift your weight back and forth. You let your head move with your body, DO NOT HOLD IT STILL. This will stop almost all motion and cause injury.
Have a look below at our boy Tiger. He's pretty good.
Here we can see how the orange line (Center of Gravity) is moving through the shot continuously.
Here we can see the measurement of the proper lateral movement. This is sensing pressure in the feet during the golf swing. You will see that the move starts by moving backwards then forwards. A great swing will see it in a straight line, a poor swing will be erratic and back and forth between heel and toe.
Now what about the other side.
Here we will see that the top of the backswing of a great in balance swing the hands and the butt of the club are above the center of gravity between heels and toes. This is very important as any mistake here and the club will pull you toward your heels or your toes and your body will immediately make an adjustment to stay upright and in balance. That's where we see golfers lose their posture in the swing and no matter how hard they try, they will struggle to keep it.
So by moving the club properly, we can make it much easier on the golfer to be able to keep their posture and thus improve their ball striking massively.
Here we can see Tiger's hand position half way back on the backswing. If you have done the take away correctly and you are hinging the club upwards, this position should be automatic.
It is also here where we see alot of variation in the swing with some people overlooking this facet. If you look at Ricky Fowler's swing you will see a very flat backswing and I believe his distance and consistency have suffered as a result.
All the top ball strikers that have been top ball strikers for the last 5+ years (Rory, DJ, Tiger, Justin Thomas) will achieve a hand position whereby the butt of the club is overtop the center of gravity on the feet (Balls of the feet).
You can understand by looking at the below swing how the club has neither pulled the golfer backwards or forward and therefore it is not difficult for your body to naturally stay in balance during the back swing.
Below you can see Tiger right at the top of the swing again you can see how he has maintained this position properly.
Now most golfers will look at this and say, well that's Tiger he's a super athlete and he's so flexible, but really hitting this position has everything to do with your set up.
If you arms are hanging directly down from your collar bone, and you know how to move the club or rather let the club move, then hitting this position is easy and natural. You will not feel any strain on your body or really struggle to be able to get there.
But as with all things, you need to have the correct parameters to be able to be a tour level ball striker.
Keeping the club atop the center of gravity is the underlying method to being able to hit the ball properly and massively increase your distance while decreasing your dispersion.
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