Seeking Consistency

Beginning the search for the Holy Grail of golf

September 1, 2004

One of the things I hear repeatedly from golfers is that they want to be more consistent. They have hit those “tuning fork” shots when the ball comes off the clubface softly, like a warm marshmallow.

There’s something supremely satisfying about center contact and the flight of a ball when it traces a high and true arc through the sky as if to join the perfectly aligned stars that allowed the shot to happen. Golfers know that they have the ability to hit those amazing shots, but then they turn around on the next swing and tear into terra firma instead of the Titleist, or jeopardize untold thousands of unsuspecting ants with a skinny slash of the old Slazenger.

So they show up at the driving range looking for “the key”. They want to let out the tour-caliber shots they know are locked inside. They set off in search of the holy grail of golf—consistency.

quote-confidence5In my experience, golfers usually suffer from inconsistency because their swings rely too much on hand-eye coordination. Think about it, here is what we attempt to do in the game of golf: take something the size of a dime (the sweet spot on the clubhead), accelerate it to 100 miles per hour, and use it to hit something the size of a silver dollar (the ball) to a target up to 250 yards away. Then do it repeatedly while covering several miles of terrain, hitting the ball into a series of 4 ¼ inch holes, and do it in 72 strokes or less.

No problem. Might as well read a Braille book while performing on the balance beam.

In my mind, a swing that relies heavily on hand-eye coordination is guaranteed to be inconsistent, not just because of the difficulty of the task, but also because the brain and the body react differently from one day to the next. So what does it take to have a consistent swing?

First of all it takes a great setup, which includes the fundamentals Grip, Posture, Alignment, and Ball Position. Most people overlook the importance of the setup, but I call it “the roadmap”. It provides a plan for the swing, and can actually have a large affect on the shot itself.

When the setup provides poor information, the golfer will have to work harder to get a good result, and will need his hand-eye coordination to recover from a potentially disastrous shot. For example, a player who aims to the right will need to “work” the ball to the left to hit the target, and if his mind and body are not up to the task, the shot might come off in sickening fashion.

After a solid setup, consistency in ball striking requires what I call a “quiet swing”. The swing’s job is to give energy to the ball without overruling, or significantly altering the setup. Changing posture half way through the backswing makes it tough to get the clubhead back to the ball. The arms and the body moving in different directions make it difficult for the clubface to square up at impact. As we all know, there is an endless list of things that can make the ball misbehave. On the other hand, having a quiet swing without too many unnecessary moving parts is what it takes to mimic the effortless-looking and repeatable swing of tour players.

It also takes a lot of practice to develop a solid, efficient swing. The average golfer, with a job, and a family (and a life) has limited time for practice, though, which is a big part of why the average male golfer shoots almost 100. If we had the luxury of hitting a thousand balls per day, we might eventually be able to force our 101 mix-matched variables to perform in harmony on a regular basis. But a lack of practice and playing time is precisely what makes it so important for most of us to learn a simplified swing built on top of a solid setup.

quote-confidence6At the driving range today there was a good example of a golfer seeking consistency. Ray, one of the starters at Shenvalee Golf Course, came down from Timberville for a lesson.

While watching Ray warm up, I noticed that he had the ball too far back in his stance and the clubface slightly open. Both of these setup flaws essentially tell the ball to go to the right. Then he had a shoulder turn in the backswing that was too flat, which made the club swing in too much of a circle around his body (inside); this also promotes a rightward ball flight.

With this kind of a setup and backswing, Ray had to use his arms and hands to force the ball back to the left—and his results were like a roll of the dice. If the setup or the backswing won, the ball went right; if the downswing won, the ball went left; and if his hand-eye coordination won, he would hit it straight.

Within an hour, though, we were able to fix Ray’s setup and make a few small changes to his backswing. As a result, he no longer had to force the club into the proper positions on the way through the ball. In a short time, he was able to hit the ball higher, further, straighter—and most importantly—more consistently.

So if you are tired of the ball spinning so hard the logo comes off; tired of slices, snappers, and hosel-rockets. If you want to see the ball go to the target more often, with less effort—have a teaching professional help you find a good setup and a quiet swing. And then buy a driving range membership.

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