Just what is a golf launch pad, and how does it lead to a more efficient and powerful swing? I’ll show you, but first a little background.
Each golf season, as a full-time teacher and coach, I re-examine techniques that I use, as well as the techniques of others. During the past 10 years, we have watched golf instruction and golf technique information evolve. The how-to’s, if you will, explode in abundance to the point where the student desperately needs, I feel, someone to help them not only with their golf game, but with any potentially confusing information that might divert the student from a properly focused path to improvement.
As my friend and mentor Bill Strausbaugh (1992 National PGA Teacher of the Year) repeatedly reminded me, “Proper golf instruction is based on a few key principals that are learned and then worked on forever.” It is my feeling that personal golf instruction — that is, live instruction between professional and student — has become far too complex. I also feel strongly golf is severely over-taught and under-coached.
An instructor should first diagnose a student’s motion and decide in his or her own mind on a starting point. Sound fundamentals affect any golf motion. They must, in fact, be solidly in place first: grip, base, ball position, posture, spacing, weight distribution, alignment, and tension levels of the arms and hands. All these items form the launching pad (traditionally called the setup) — what I call The First Bookend.
The golf launch pad is static as opposed to the swing, which is dynamic. All dynamic swing cancers can be traced back to the launching pad/setup (Photo 1). Most students who come for instruction at the club level don’t understand the vital importance of a sound launching pad, and don’t realize how dramatically the cause-and-effect results of improper launching pad conditions affect the student’s ability to make solid contact with the ball on a regular basis — and produce the type of trajectory and ball flight that will allow the student to control the ball and advance it around the course toward an acceptable score.
For example, the vast majority of club players (Tour players and club professionals) tend to align themselves too far into right field (right handed players) with their bodies; therefore, their club face is often aiming right of the foul line (or you might say into the right rough). I like to view the target area in front of the player (i.e., the fairway off the tee and the green for my approach shots) as a base-ball diamond. When I prepare a student to both optically as well as conceptually understand alignment, I ask he or she to feel as if they would like to aim their club face at the second base bag and their body lines (feet, knees, hips, and shoulders) at the shortstop. I also stress the shoulders may feel slightly (and I stress slightly) more left than the shortstop. Most players I encounter will aim their body, not club face, at the second base bag and their club face at the sec-ond baseman while optically they’re commanding the nerve center to propel the ball over second base. Their conscious intent and their perceived actuality doesn’t match; therefore, disaster looms.
Often from this setup condition, the club is swung early inside, then lifted, and then rerouted over the top to compensate for a bad alignment condition. This leads to a very steep angle of attack and ball flights that are either pulls or pull slices, often both, the only difference being the club face condition at impact. For a player whose normal 5-iron may fly 175 yards, the pull will go long left 190 yards, and the pull-slice will go short right, 150 yards, so it’s easy to see how this is a tough way to play and score.
These problems are just a few of the issues I see on the lesson tee. Most students want you to fix their golf swing, and when you mention the launching pad, they look at you as if to say, “No, my swing, my swing,” never believing in their heart that the relationship between the two (launching pad and swing motion) is so vital. The correction, in fact, must start there. When I am finally able to get a student to buy into the importance of the launching pad and I physically lead them into an exact condition (that is, a proper setup condition via a well-constructed and executed pre-shot routine) from which I’d like them to begin, it often, in many ways, feels extremely strange to the patient. This is a true sign that their golf motion has actually been strangled by an improper launching pad.
Much of the work is done in front of a mirror. On my lesson tee I have a full-length mirror, as well as numerous still photos of various world-class players, for the student to see fundamentally sound launching pad conditions. Through excessive repetition of the process they can make constant visual comparisons between their image in the “understanding mirror” and the photos. The best way to convince a student that what is occurring is in fact correct, is to put them in a situation where they can convince themselves and see success. Feel is not always real, but seeing is believing, especially when there is a real comparison.
In my entire career the number of launching pads I’ve seen at the club level that looked as if they would produce a desirable ball flight without the need for compensation could be counted on one hand. Conversely, during my time working with players on both the PGA and LPGA tours, I would count the launching pads that looked unable to produce a satisfactory result on one hand. Tour players look fundamentally ready to go.
As I switch my focus to the finish condition, I hear folks out there screaming: “What about the in-between? What about my backswing? My transition? My leg drive? My shoulder turn? My impact condition? I don’t ignore all of the above, because in my student’s swing, each of the above could be an issue; I do, at the proper point in our instructional relationship, address them if necessary. But if I can posture and position my students’ launch-ing pad correctly and also allow them to feel and understand the conditions (feelings, visuals) of their finish (i.e., The Bookends), they will have a heck of a chance of making an improved, dynamic motion in between these two static conditions.
Conditions of the finish include the following (See Photo 3):
- A level shoulder condition
- A level hip/pelvic condition
- A vertical right foot
- A right knee that finds a relationship with (touching and behind) the left knee
- A vertical spinal column
- A level head and level eyes looking level at the horizon
- A feeling of balance dictated by your ability to swing at a controllable pace.
Again, a mirror and many repetitions helps ingrain this feeling. I usually start by taking some film of the student’s motion, and simply freezing the film at the point of their own full finish, then show them a point-by-point comparison with any world class ball striker, male or female. The pictures don’t lie.
Teaching my players to “post up” into a balanced, controlled finish, is vital. If I’m able to modify the player’s launching pad and post-up condition, the in-betweens start to beautifully fall into place.
Tom Patri is president/founder TP Golf, GolfTips Magazine Top 30 Instructor and PGA Quarter Century Member. Reach him at www.tompatri.com