FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Maxims
Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in Winter 1995 edition of Golf Teaching Pro and is another in our series of articles from the archives. Articles are selected for their interest and relevance to golf teaching
today. The concepts Dr. Wiren writes about in 1995 are still valid today.
After 40 years of teaching, playing, and studying, I decided to compile a list of the most important things I have learned about the game. In the spirit of brevity and practicality, the list is limited to nine items. It may be brief, but it is powerful. From my perspective, they include the following items:
1. There is no swing that fits everybody, but everybody has a best swing for them.
Picture the golf swings of the following players: Tom Watson, Calvin Peete, Raymond Floyd, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Cary Middlecoff, Sam Snead – all champions in different decades, all with highly individualistic swings. It is pure folly to try and make your swing into a carbon copy of some star’s, particularly if your body characteristics are dissimilar. In the above group, the heights varied from 5’6” to 6’2”; weights from 155 to 215 pounds; some hooked the ball, some faded; strong to weak grips; upright and flat swings; all winners.
That should send you a message. Settle on the basic fundamentals that produce consistent, acceptable results for you and get better than anyone else at doing them. If your technique doesn’t precisely match that of last week’s champion, don’t let it bother you. Next week there will be another champion and another swing someone will suggest you should copy. Find a sound style, and practice sticking to it.
2. The preliminaries to the swing which constitute grip, aim, and setup can be performed correctly by almost anyone, yet only the good players seem to accord them their proper respect.
I’d love to have the chance to play over the bad shots that came from good swings preceded by a poor grip, aim, or setup! The root cause was pure carelessness, and the results very costly. Unfortunately, it takes experience to learn that. Preparing properly for a successful shot doesn’t take long. It does require that you pay attention. The irony of it is that almost anyone can physically complete a good grip, aim, and setup, yet so few do. Golfers lay most of the blame for poor shots on other reasons. If the facts were known, in a high percentage of cases, the shot is missed before the swing ever gets into motion. And, the cause can frequently be traced to a mistake in one of those three pre-shot principles.
3. What am I trying to do with a club in my hand? Hit? No! Swing? Yes! Swinging hits, not hitting swings.
Of course, we hit the golf ball with the club! But, from experience, I guarantee you we hit it better when we don’t try to hit it. We hit it best when we focus on making a good swing. The act of hitting implies force. Trying to overtly create force leads to muscular tension, which is the great destroyer of the swing. Distance is enhanced by the conservation of the angular momentum known as “the delayed hit.”
Achieving the correct timing for the most efficient delay in your release of power is the very subtle thing. It depends heavily on the sequence of your body movements. That is what timing is all about. Trying to hit hard results in two of golf’s most common errors:
1) hitting from the top; 2) failure to release. Both are errors in timing, one too early, the other too late. Trying to swing the club, rather than hit the ball, is an effective cure for both.
We’ve just acknowledged in maxim #3 that muscular tension destroys the swing. But, what causes the tension? As Ike Handy so aptly put in his book by the same name, “It’s the damned ball.” Laboratory research isn’t necessary to discover that a highhandicapper’s practice swing and his swing at the ball are not the same. The former is generally free-flowing, rhythmical, and in good sequence. The latter is usually quick, tense, and poorly timed. For the better player, the visual difference between a practice swing and a real swing is not as noticeable. But, the results frequently indicate added tension when the ball is present.
I concede that players handicapped by a short backswing need more of hit feeling. They have no choice. You can’t make a true swing that generates speed unless you can wind the body. But, it’s all a matter of degree. Some feel more swing, some feel more hit. Swinging the golf club to your target, not hitting at the ball, should be the objective for all. Trying to maintain the degree of muscular tension similar to that which you use in a full practice swing will help.
4. Low scores are the result of good shots. Good shots are the result of correct swings. Correct swings are the result of clearly understanding and feeling what you are trying to do.
Golf is played by feel. But, feel is a very elusive sensation. You need to have understanding behind it, so when it disappears (and it most certainly will), you have a means of finding it again. Call it “knowing your golf swing.” If you were my student, I would give you some drills to put you back on track when the correct swing feel disappeared – something you could do on your own when I wasn’t available. During your practice, you would be expected to conscientiously work on positions and details, repeating them, then blending them with motion until feel was re-established. Then, you again could play as you should, without the need to think of several details during your swing.
5. A golf swing is one continuous blended motion in two directions, away from and toward. It has position, destination, and acceleration.
We frequently categorize and scrutinize elements separately, when in fact they operate as a whole Mind and body are a classic example. How could one sensibly examine either without acknowledging the influence of the other? For backswing and downswing, we can make a similar case.
The golf swing is not two separate swings, it is one. I’m often asked about the value of stopping or pausing at the top of the backswing. My response is that while you should not be desirous of hurrying the forward motion, stopping dissipates momentum and hinders the rhythm of the full swing. There are positions that are reached during the execution of the full swing which are generally desirable, such as a wide extension of the arc, club parallel to the target line at the top of the backswing, left wrist bowed and arched at impact, and the body freely facing the target and right foot vertical on the toe at the swing finish. They are common to almost all good players’ swings.
Drills or learning aids which teach those positions can be very useful. The destination of the swing is toward the target if you desire a straight shot. Your swing approach to the target is from inside your target line. At my golf schools, we spray paint lines on the ground for our students to help them visualize the path or destination of the swing. There is a target line, backswing line, and downswing line. This visual representation on the ground helps shape the inside or path approach which we prefer. Acceleration is a key word for all golf shots: Putts, bunker shots, chips, pitches, and full swings. The clubhead must not be slowing down as it nears impact. Increasing grip pressure in anticipation of striking the ball retards the clubhead’s speed and also causes the critical timing element to misfire. Positive acceleration works naturally with a swinging motion, but must be manipulated
when hitting is the main objective.
6. The power swing is an athletic movement which requires that the player have a reasonable level of strength and flexibility.
Noted author Damon Runyon said in words similar to these: “The race may not go to the strong and the swift, but if you’re wagering, I’d sure bet that way.” What we are saying is that, other factors being equal, the stronger, better athlete has the edge. The value of being more fit for improved playing performance has reached the Tour, as evidenced in the appearance of a full-time exercise trailer sponsored by Diversified Products, manufacturers of fitness equipment. Professional golfers, both men and women, are better athletes than you might think. Specifically, they are strong and flexible in the trunk, forearms and hands, plus have above-average neuromuscular coordination. The average post-middle-aged male golfer would increase his capacity for making a much better golf swing by gaining greater flexibility through exercise; women would improve by working on strength.
No matter how much you know about the swing and are aware of what to do, your body still must have the capacity to respond. A high percentage of my pupils are presently unable to perform in a manner that matches their scoring aspirations. Fortunately, they have the capacity to change, and some do.
7. The body won’t lie for the brain. Play with confidence using mental imagery.
When we make bad shots, they are usually attributable to mechanical causes: “I came off the ball,” “hit from the top,” “blocked it out,” etc. What about their root causes? If we looked deeply enough, we’d find that many of those errors were the result of negative thoughts and pictures in the mind just before or during the swing. For positive results, it’s imperative to see positive pictures and think positive thoughts.
The single-most common personality characteristic of the champion golfer is unflagging self-confidence. Talk about positive! They believe they can beat anybody anytime they tee it up. Just picture Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, or Sam Snead playing competitively and see how true that is. As for Jack Nicklaus, one fellow Tour player once said of the Golden Bear, “He knows that he’s going to beat you, you know he’s going to beat you, and worse yet, he knows you know he’s going to beat you.” Having a positive self-concept regarding your ability to play and execute shots is a tremendous asset. Don’t ever seriously knock your own abilities. It can negatively influence your performance.
Positive mental imagery is equally important, but our pictures must be realistic. Visualizing a 275-yard drive, if you can only hit the ball 200 yards, isn’t going to make it happen. Positive mental imagery does not produce the impossible. It only raises the odds in your favor of doing what you are capable of doing. Believe me, though, when I say what is in your mind is reflected in your swing. Your body won’t lie for your brain.
8. No one has become an accomplished player without practice. Practice, however, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. Therefore, what you practice is critical to your success.
Probably the most gifted athlete ever to play worldclass golf has been Sam Snead. He was strong, unusually flexible, and had great hand-eye coordination. Golf writers would frequently refer to Sam as a “natural.” Sam’s reply was, “You don’t know how many hours I spent hitting balls to become so ‘natural.’”
Another of Snead’s great observations is “to put your brain into your muscles,” his description of muscle memory. How does your body learn a motor-skill pattern? Well, Sam is not far off. Through repetition and practice, neuromuscular controlled body movements are developed, which can be recalled. Your muscles figuratively “know what to do.” A textbook of motor learning is, “A relatively permanent change in behavior that comes about by practice.” There is that key word again, “practice.” So, practice is essential. But, know this about practice: 1) If you expect to improve your performance, practice must be based on mechanically sound principles; 2) Quality is important. Hit fewer balls, make them mean more. Each practice shot should receive the same attention you give to shots on the course; 3) All practice doesn’t have to be on the range. Swinging a club in the front room of your house or sitting and mentally rehearsing your technique in the den have tremendous potential value.
9. Golf is a game, and as such, is meant to be enjoyed. Our performance is enhanced by that attitude.
My philosophy is, “Whenever we get together in the name of golf, we ought to be having a good time.” If you come off the course angry and upset, then grow up or quit. Learn to enjoy the game for what it has to offer: Beauty, companionship, exercise, competition, diversion, and fun. Sure, we get great satisfaction from playing well, and we should try to do so. That’s the element of challenge that makes the game so fascinating. But, don’t put all your eggs in the basket of scoring. If you do, you’ll only be happy about 10 percent of the time, which is the frequency your scores meet your expectations.