Monday, February 22, 2010

Throwing with the Right Hand

I seem to be on a roll, here in the Northeast, deep in February, with snow covering the yard and wind blowing plastic balls off the mat. Even to go out, I have to put on several layers, then a fleece coat, a scarf, a knit hat, gloves, and my Sorrel boots. That's all OK with me because the results have been very gratifying. From my last day at the range, I can see that I've come a long way. I've learned to relax and swing with confidence, and I'm seeing greater distance and accuracy than before.

And every day that I go out to practice, I know I'm going to learn or feel something new. During the session, my swing is going to change in some subtle way. I can never predict what that change will be, but whatever it is, it will make my swing better. I couldn't ask for more. The golf paradigm seems to be this: keep putting in the practice and the golf swing will gradually reveal itself. There's no magic here, no shortcuts.

And you have to be ready and receptive. When the revelations come to me, they trigger aspects I read about or saw on video or heard from a pro. And, all of a sudden, something makes sense in a way that it never did before. As I've said, several times before in these blogs, you think you know, but you really don't. Not until you have the concept working in your nerve synapses and muscle fiber. When the concept gets down to the anatomical and physiological, then you can say to yourself that you understand.

Now, to recapitulate a bit. On Saturday, two days ago, I went, with some measure of trepidation, to the range to see if I could hit real balls with my practice swing. On previous attempts, my practice swing served me well for the first go-around through the irons, but when I started to try for more distance, the swing fell apart, and I could hardly hit the ball.

This time, the practice swing prevailed. I remembered to stay loose, and through all the irons and hybrids—even the driver—I was relaxed. As a result, I hit the ball very well. I didn't get the distances I wanted, but I didn't worry. That will come later.

When I returned to my backyard to start hitting plastic practice balls, it was with a renewed sense of confidence. Yesterday, my swing was the best it has ever been. I could hit ball after ball right at my target, the tall Norway Maple.

Today, the difference was that I got the feel of throwing the right hand. Maybe it was something I saw while watching Paul Casey and Ian Poulter in the Accenture Match Play. Somehow, I got into my head, and into my imagination, the right hand turning over and finishing into a long follow-through. With my pink practice balls, I tried to emulate that look. And very quickly, the sense of what the right hand does became clear. It's what Hogan means when he talks about the second baseman's throw, with the right arm down low and the forearm hanging back, ready to sling the ball to first.

From my experience at the range, day before last, I was primed for this new aspect of the swing. Hitting real balls, I found myself, without consciously trying to accomplish this, turning over the right hand and finding my forearms crossed on the follow-through, just as all the online instruction advocates. Particularly with the driver, I found that if I could replicate this feeling, I could hit a good ball.

At some early point in today's practice, I remembered that feel of the right hand swinging through and over the left. Mentally, I coupled that with what I remembered of Hogan and began to sweep the club through with my right hand. Instantly, it made all the difference—in both the swing and in the result. The swing started popping the ball out there, towards my target, time after time. Direction was almost no problem. Neither was distance. When everything flowed, the results were sublime.

Realizing that I had stumbled upon a great secret of the swing, I started concentrating on maximizing the benefits of this new swing. You'll see the results in the video below. No longer did I worry about the club being parallel to the ground at the top of the swing. And no longer did I think primarily about the shoulders turning sharply, with the left shoulder coming away from the target line and enabling the snap of the wrists. All I attempted to do was to swing back normally, keeping behind the ball, and then to swing forward and to swing with both the left hand and the right.

This is not easy. Sometimes, the left hand would dominate. Other times, the right. But if I took a practice swing and mentally laid out a plan for the real swing, invariably, I would hit a good ball.

Naturally, this kind of success excited me, and I hit bucket after bucket. I took some time out to film my swing using the Callaway balls and the Almost Golf balls, a real test of how well the swing was working. By the end, as the sun was setting, I felt as though I could hit ball after ball towards an imaginary target in my driveway. Accuracy and distance were all taken care of by the way I executed the swing. I really didn't have to think about the ball—or about impact—as long as I carried out my swing plan.

Take a look at the video and see what you think. I show some swings today, and one in slow motion. At the end, I compare today's swing with one taken about a week ago. To me, I see the longer finish in today's swing. What I take away from this video is that I need to practice a full release and follow-through. I can see that I'm not really releasing the club fully. After impact, at some point, my muscles call a halt to the proceedings, whereas they should just let everything go, right up to the conclusion. Still, in the side-by-side last part of the video, I think you'll see that today's swing improves upon the one from a week ago.

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