Learn Like A Junior!

How to master fundamentals like a beginner

LEARN HOW TO SWING SOMETHING

One of my favorite things about teaching junior players is knowing that they don't have any preconceived notions about what they think the golf swing should look and feel like. They haven't spent hours in front of a TV watching Tour players, nor have they read lots of books and magazines with instruction telling them how the club should be swung. If anything, most of my juniors (at least the ones who are just starting at golf) come ready to learn with an open mind. I love that and wish more of my adult students did the same!

Being free of any ideas about what you think the golf swing should look and feel like opens the body and mind to swing the club as you would swing just about anything. For instance, in the opposite photo, I asked three of my junior students to heave some traffic cones over the photographer's head. I didn't tell them to make a golf swing, nor did I instruct them on any basic mechanics. The only thing I asked was that they swing and throw the cones at the same time. Now check out their finish positions. Not only are they looking like golfers already, they swing those cones in a way that's perfect for swinging a golf club!

If you're starting out new at golf, or you want to get back to basics, try this simple drill and heave something back and through. Traffic cones work well because they're both heavy and easy to throw, but you could use four- or six-pound medicine balls, or even medium-sized stones. Simply swing the cone back and forth, allowing it to gain some momentum while feeling the natural arc it wants to swing on. This exercise will help you feel the natural arc and how to coordinate your lower and upper body in an effective sequence for increased power and accuracy in your golf swing.

INSTANT TIP: If you have space and an old club to spare, consider throwing an actual club! It's a fun way to develop a natural sequence of motion.

FIND YOUR PERFECT GRIP

Starting new at golf is fun because it's a great time to experiment with different styles of grip. Today, the most popular grip is the interlock, but when I was a junior, more golfers leaned toward the Vardon grip, which you see in the middle. The baseball grip has gained some followers, too. No matter which grip style you choose, there really isn't a difference in how they help you swing the club.

Whatever grip style you prefer, you should hold the club in a manner that's natural for you. When you grip a club properly, you should get the club in your fingers. This allows for maximum wrist mobility and a hand position that allows the club to square naturally without excessive amounts of tension. If you keep the integrity of your natural arm hang when you grip, you're about 90% there on having an excellent grip. Let the hands hang naturally, with the palms facing inward. As you grip the club, simply move the hands in together as a unit. Don't twist or force anything. If you open the hands artifically, you'll have a more difficult time finding a comfortable grip.

This grip is way too forced! It's a result of arranging the hands on the grip as opposed to letting the hands naturally hold the handle.

THREE STEPS FOR A GOOD HOLD

1. With the clubface square to your target line, place your left hand on the club while keeping the palm facing your right thigh. Then, grip the club and keep your thumb on the top. 2. Next, regardless of grip style, lay the bottom of the handle on the segment of your fingers next to your palm. 3. Finally, fold your right palm over your left thumb, putting the "hot dog in the bun." (The lifeline fits securely into the thumb.)

If you've done so properly, both hands will be turned inward, just like the Natural Arm Hang Drill!

Below are three grip positions, with two of them wrong and one correct. The left is wrong, with too strong a grip in both hands. This leads to big hooks and big slices that usually fly low. The middle one is the correct grip, and the right photo is a weak grip that often produces high, weak fades.

Remember, grip position isn't the same as grip pressure. You can have a firm or weak grip with good grip pressure. The key is aligning the hands so the wrists move freely through the stroke with just the right amount of resistance and control.

PAY ATTENTION TO BALL POSITION

Ball position has a directional component that's very important. If you're not set up with the ball in the right spot, you'll have a hard time hitting shots where you want the ball to go. Here's why.

First, let me introduce my models! That's Skyler on the left, Cooper in the middle, and Madison on the right. All three have very good mechanics at setup, and they're willing to show some of the common mistakes many beginners make.

Let's look at Skyler on the left, who has her ball position way too far back. In doing this, it means she's likely to catch the ball while the swing is coming too far from the inside. This can result in all kinds of manipulations, but mostly a push to the right and a compensation of closing the club way too early. She's going to hook this ball, I can feel it!

On the far right, Madison has her ball position way too forward. If she uses her best swing motion, the clubhead will be traveling to the left of the target when she makes impact, resulting in a pulled shot. This will lead to compensations of holding the clubface open and sliding her body forward in the forwardswing. She'll either pull-hook or pull-slice it.

In the middle, Cooper has it just right. You want the ball position to be where the arc of the club naturally is moving toward the target. This will lead to less manipulations and much more consistency!

INSTANT TIP: The swing arc is never exactly the same with different clubs. Why? Because they vary in length. Longer clubs tend to bottom out farther forward in the stance than shorter ones do. The key is to keep the ball in the same spot relative to your left foot and move your right foot away or closer to the target as needed. Don't move your left foot!

What does it look like at impact? If you set the ball too far back in your stance, you'll look like Skyler and reach the ball too far from the inside. You'll hit a ball that likely starts right and either stays right or hooks too much, depending on how your clubface is oriented at impact. Now, some teachers say that swinging from the inside is a good thing, and they're right. But not if you do it too much like Skyler is doing here.

Cooper has it dialed in. He's catching the ball right at the bottom of his swing arc, with the face matching the path and the ball going straight. Look how much more arm room he has to swing than Skyler does.

Madison is playing the ball too far forward, and at impact, is doing everything to hold the face open and prevent a dead pull. Even with a square face at impact, she's going to slice it.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DISTANCE

_È_If you're too far from the ball (most people), you'll tend to hit "at" the ball with your arms too much, which keeps your body from rotating toward the target. The shot tendency is for the ball to go to the right and be very thin.

If you're too close to the ball (very few people), you'll have to stand up too much through impact and pull your shoulders up to make sure you can hit the ball. It's very common to hit the ball fat or thin in this position.

If you're just the right distance from the ball, your arms will strike the ball solidly with no manipulation of the arms. The result is a much more solid strike and the ball will tend to launch right on line.

PERFECT YOUR TURN

The turn in the backswing is one of the most crucial moves in golf. It sets you up for power and allows the club to be in a good position for the forwardswing. Most people who struggle with golf actually slide their right hip sideways and drop their left shoulder down toward the ball on the backswing, which makes it impossible to put the club in a good position at the top. When you turn, you need to allow your right hip to move behind you and your left shoulder to move in line with that hip–if you're facing yourself in a mirror, the left shoulder joint and the right hip joint will be very close to a vertical line.

Try this drill to understand your body's natural turn. Get yourself in an athletic setup position with your arms crossed over your chest. Next, pretend your friend is standing about 20 yards directly behind you and he shouts, "Hey, Dan!" (or your name). Simply turn your head and look back over your right shoulder to your friend without thinking about it, and your body will produce your natural turn! If your backswing is similar, then you're in good shape. If not, see if you can replicate some of those moves–it will require that you not try so hard to keep your head still!

INSTANT TIP: As you rotate the club back, try and retain some flex in both knees. You'll find it much easier to engage the glutes in the backswing, resulting in a more powerful transition into the golf ball.

GET FIT FOR BETTER PERFORMANCE

Following my advice on perfecting your turn is a critical ingredient to making a good golf swing. But your actual clubs can have a great influence on your golf swing, too.

When was the last time you had your club lengths, flexes and lie angles checked? The length of your club can affect a variety of things, including how far or close you stand. The lie can affect your plane, and shaft flex can change how well the clubhead releases through impact. I always tell my students to start with clubs that fit in terms of length and lie angle, first and foremost. Flex can be adjusted, but with length and lie, you want the right fit to start off so you develop a good swing plane. With juniors, it's even more important as they grow taller. Be sure you get fit for the right lengths and lies to start, and as you get better, change your flexes accordingly.

If you dip the left shoulder going back, you limit your chances of making a good, powerful turn. It even causes the left arm to collapse.

Instead, make a more rounded backswing, with less tilt in the shoulders (there's still going to be a little) and more rotation of the body.

At the top, you should emulate saying "Hey Dan!" as though I was standing behind you.

Traffic cones are, again, one of my favorite training aids! I like to use them to enhance the turn of the body on the backswing.

If anything, what I want to feel at the top is a sensation of throwing the cone behind me, not to my right side.

_È_If I'm in a good position at the top of my swing, getting into the right position at impact is much easier. Just turn and lower the arms.

MIRROR YOURSELF

Every golf club you hold has a natural arc it "wants" to swing on; this is called the swing plane or the swing path. In the above photos, you can see that the clubshaft is on a very similar arc near the top of my swing and in the followthrough of my swing. To some degree, I've mirrored my backswing with my followthrough.

This can be done naturally by doing the following exercise. Grip the club lightly and start swinging it back and forth in a half-swing motion. Don't stop the club, just keep going back and forth like a pendulum. Now, feel where the club wants to go and allow your body to turn with it and your wrists to start breaking and forming an "L" position on both the backswing and followthrough. Increase to a three-quarter swing. As you do this, you'll start to feel where the natural arc of the club is. Then simply take the feel and hit some shots!

HIT SOME BALLS IN A ROW

In training any new feel or movement in a golf swing, it's best to stay athletic. In this case, I mean get your "thinking" brain (left side) out of the process and let your "feeling and sensing" brain (right brain) perform the task and make natural adjustments. When we practice one shot at a time, it's really easy to overthink and interfere with what you're trying to learn. Instead, line up five or more balls in a row, and hit one after another in a very rhythmic sequence. Good shot or bad shot, keep going, and you'll find your body will naturally make adjustments to perform the task you're working on.

INSTANT TIP: See if you not only can hit balls in a row, but do it while ramping up your clubhead speed. Start with a close target and work away from it. You'll get a better feel for what swing length and speed produce what distances.

_È_NEVER STOP LEARNING

Teaching juniors is always fun, mainly since they're used to being in learning mode. In fact, most of their time is spent learning new things, whether in school, at home or on the golf course. I love that they're always asking questions, looking for new answers. As adults, we're not quite as wired to learn like many juniors are. In fact, some of us are so set in our ways that it has become very difficult to break bad habits and learn something completely new.

This is precisely why learning to play golf (or learning to get better, for my experienced students) isn't always about hitting hundreds of balls on the practice tee. I'm a big believer in teaching my students why things happen when they do, and getting them to understand how to fix swing errors and start making lasting improvements on their own.

After all, when the time comes, nobody is going to hit a shot for you–not your teacher, not your caddy and definitely not any of your playing buddies. We each have to hit every shot on our own, so I teach my students to become not only good learners, but good teachers, as well. I want them to know the reasons why they hit slices, hooks, topped shots and so on because, if they know the root of the problem, they'll be able to fix it themselves enough to make it through the round.

If you struggle with becoming a student as an adult and you find it hard to break old swing habits, or maybe you're reluctant to start with a new outlook on learning to play golf, consider what it takes to become your own teacher! Examine what swing faults you may have and the reasons they occur, and talk with your instructor about the swing fixes. Approach your swing lessons as lessons on becoming not only a better golfer, but a better teacher, too! This change in perspective will help you ask better questions and actually allow you to become more engaged in the learning process. The more you know about why things happen in the swing (both good and bad), the better you'll be able to teach yourself the right stuff.

No matter how good you get at playing golf, there always will be room to get better. Think of yourself as a teacher, and you'll never stop learning!

Dan Martin, PGA, is a Top-25 Golf Instructor and teaches at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark, Calif. For more information, visit danmartingolf.com.

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