If you practice your backswing at a gas pump while talking on your cell phone, the station will explode. It’s myths like this—though hardly as ludicrous—that can send golfers who need the right answers into a tailspin. The trouble with myths is that most sound reasonable, and usually are passed from one golfer to the next with only good intentions. Nevertheless, the common tip shared across grill room tables and on tee boxes nationwide tends to do more harm than good if only because the true reasoning behind the suggestion is misunderstood. Let’s clear the air, shall we?
Myth #1: Aim At The Target
Aim what at the target? Clubface? Body? Confusion in this area typically cause golfers to mis-aim in two ways. The first is aiming the feet, knees, hips and shoulders directly at the target, leaving the clubface aimed down a line well right of the target. It’s no surprise that golfers who misalign their body and clubface in this manner miss the target to the right, unless they make an adjustment in their swing to get the ball back on line. That usually translates into an over-the-top move and a swipe across the ball and contact out near the toe of the club.
The second misalignment error results from an adjustment to ballflight errors. For example, if a slicer aims left to make room for the left-to-right ballflight, and the mistake that’s causing the slice isn’t addressed, chances are his or her aim will continue to creep more and more to the left.
Retrain Your Eyes On The Range
When you aim correctly, the leading edge of your club sits at a right angle to the target line while your body aligns parallel-left to the target line. Only proper practice will get you into the habit of aligning correctly on the course. On the range, pick a target and lay one club a few feet in front of the ball on the target line. Place another club parallel to the first on your toe line to indicate your body alignment. After a few balls, you’ll train your body and eyes to accept this new alignment and limit compensations.
Equip Myth: Less Loft = More Distance
There once was a day when lofts in the 7- to 8-degree range were needed to help keep the ball from ballooning. But with today’s shaft, clubhead and ball technology, nothing could be further from the truth. Due to the larger size of modern clubheads, players are using more loft (combined with lower-spinning golf balls) to produce shots that bore high through the air yet still roll upon impact with the ground.
Finding the correct loft should be determined by evaluating how you ascend through the impact zone. If you have a steep swing, a lower loft may help. If you’re a player with a shallow to normal (less steep) plane, you may be better served by a higher loft to produce the optimal low-spin, high-launch ballflight. More often, higher-lofted drivers in the 9- to 11-degree range work best to attain the desired 13- to 14-degree launch angle. Also, pay attention to the shaft; it, too, can have a significant effect on trajectory.
Myth #2: As The Swing Gets Longer, The Swing Gets Faster
When I watch a golfer hit 7-iron, then driver, he or she invariably amps up the swing speed with the longer club. Surely, the clubhead of the driver does move faster because it’s longer, but it’s due to the principles of physics, not because the golfer is swinging the club with a faster tempo.
Tempo is the total amount of time it takes to create your golf swing from beginning to end. Some players have a relatively fast tempo, like Nick Price, while others have a slower tempo, like Fred Couples. Either way is fine, as long as you keep the same tempo for each club in the bag. Golfers get into trouble when they either slow down or speed up their natural tempo. Most often, the tendency is to speed up with the longer clubs—especially the driver—to gain extra yards.
When your tempo starts varying from club to club, the timing required to hit consistent golf shots is destroyed. That’s one reason why you feel you can hit your irons well one day, but not the woods, and vice versa. Poor timing produces a variety of poor results, like topped shots, fat shots and directional misses. For every club in the bag, the tempo should be the same. For example, it should take the same amount of time to make a swing with your pitching wedge as it does for the 7-iron. Furthermore, it should take the same time to hit the ball with your driver. The only thing that differs is clubhead speed. Because the driver is longer than the pitching wedge, the clubhead automatically moves faster throughout the swing. It’s not something you control. If it takes two seconds to swing a pitching wedge, it should take the same two seconds to swing the driver.
Practice Consistent Tempo
Discover your own best tempo by making three continuous practice swings, without a ball, using a
5-iron. Make the swings in a pendulum fashion, back and through, while maintaining good balance. Then hit a teed golf ball focusing on repeating the same tempo with a balanced finish. Finally, try this with short irons, long irons and woods as well to see if your tempo—and timing—will remain constant with each club.
Myth #3: Play The Ball Back With Shorter Clubs
While it’s true that the ball position for your driver is more forward in your stance (closer to your left foot) than for a wedge, the ball should never be positioned back of center for any normal shot from a level lie, regardless of what club you’re using.
For normal shots on level lies, there are three basic ball positions:
1) Short irons: One inch to the left of the center of your stance.
2) Mid-irons: Two inches left of center (opposite your shirt logo).
3) Long irons & woods: Three inches left of center (opposite your left armpit).
Always relate the position of the ball to your upper body. Most golfers use their toes to judge ball position and they can give you the illusion that the ball position is correct when, in fact, it isn’t. For example, if you position the ball one inch left of center for a short-iron shot, then flare your left foot open, the ball appears to be back in your stance. If you draw your right foot back to close your stance, the ball appears to move forward.
With the ball placed too far forward, your shoulders tend to align left of the target. Since your club swings where your shoulders point, you’re plagued with a slicer’s swing path—steep and out-to-in. If you locate the ball too far toward your right foot, your shoulders tend to close, creating a flat path that encourages pushes and hooks.
Here’s an easy way to establish ball position. Start with both feet together, with the ball opposite your left toe. For a short-iron shot, take a little step with your left foot and a little step with your right foot. For a mid-iron shot, take a little step with your left foot, and a slightly bigger step with your right. For long irons and woods, take the same small step with your left foot, and a slightly wider step than with your irons. With this method, your right foot step widens your stance to position the ball so that it matches the low point of your swing with the club in your hand.
Equip Myth: Stiffer Shafts Will Add More Distance
Some players, even though they have fast tempos, may actually find themselves more successful with a more flexible shaft. The critical component is to evaluate how you load the shaft. To illustrate, think of a slingshot. When you pull the rubber band back, you’re loading the device. In a similar way, the transition of backswing to downswing loads the shaft and forces it to flex then release at impact. If you’re a player with a short, quick backswing and a slow downswing, a flexible shaft may not be right for you because the shaft will flex too much in the backswing and not unload at the proper moment on the downswing. On the contrary, if you’re a player with a slow backswing and a fast, powerful downswing, some extra flex might help you better load the shaft at the top of the swing for even more distance. The key? Pay attention to not just flex, but when the shaft loads and unloads. If you can find the optimal load in a shaft, you’ll not only hit it longer, but straighter as well.
Equip Myth: Premium Balls Are Right For Everyone
What today’s premium golf balls can do for players like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh doesn’t necessarily translate to the same benefits for golfers with less than Tour-quality swings (which includes the majority of players). The reason is premium golf balls are, in most cases, three-piece construction models with soft covers and firm inner cores. To reap the benefits of this kind of golf ball, you have to have enough clubhead speed to reach the inner core for added distance with the driver. Most golfers can’t swing hard enough to do that. However, some lower-priced balls are made with a two-piece or sometimes three-piece construction, albeit in a different manner than premium balls are made. These types of golf balls not only are better performing for most golfers, but also feature firm or soft outer layers with softer cores to help slower swingers better compress the ball for longer distance. In today’s ball market, players can choose soft cores and soft covers for both distance and spin, or a firm cover and soft core for pure distance. If you’re a fast swinger, stick with soft covers and firm cores. If you have a moderate to slow swing speed, finding a soft-core model should be your top priority.
Myth #4: The Golf Club Swings Around Your Body
The club does swing around the body, but taken to the extreme, you run the risk of creating one of the most common faults I see among recreational golfers: the inside takeaway (center photo).
Because we stand to the side of the golf ball, it’s easy to understand why many golfers improperly rotate both the body and golf club away from the ball during the takeaway. This inside move away from the ball produces a rolling of the hands and forearms, causing the clubface to open, and the clubshaft gets out of balance and trapped too far behind them. From this position, the only option is to lift the club to the top, destroying your coil and the path of the swing.
The correct way to get your swing in motion is to move your golf club, hands, arms, shoulders and chest together. The key concept is that your club, during the takeaway, moves back and across—not around you. When your arms swing across your body, you’ll get the feeling that they’re moving directly back from the ball, and the clubhead stays outside your hands to the waist-high back position. The body and arms have separate roles during the swing. The arms provide the up-and-down swinging motion while the body provides rotation. When the two are properly blended, the clubhead travels on a path gradually back and up, and you have the best chance to deliver the clubhead on the proper inside path back to the ball on the forwardswing.
Equip Myth: Forged Clubs Are Difficult To Hit
The reason most players assume forged clubs are harder to hit is because, until recently, most forged clubs were limited to blade-style designs due to the difficulty in manufacturing a perimeter-weighted cavity-back from a chunk of steel. Today, however, high-tech forging methods allow for forged clubs that reside securely in the game-improvement category, with plenty of forgiveness and feel. Regardless of how a club is made, the shape, cavity size and center-of-gravity position are the most important factors for determining iron playability, not whether it’s forged or cast. Plus, forged metals typically are softer than cast metals, thus making them slightly more pliable and better suited for fitting purposes. Some argue that the forging process also produces a greater consistency in weight and density as opposed to cast metals.
Myth #5: To Hit A Good Shot, You Must "Get Under" The Ball
Golfers who try to get the clubhead “under” the ball typically create a forwardswing mistake where they scoop at the ball by flipping their hands and wrists. What you get is a series of topped and fat shots with the low point of the swing too far behind the ball. If you’re lucky to catch the ball just right, it typically goes sky high because you’ve added a tremendous amount of loft by flipping the clubhead under the ball with your hands and wrists.
To hit a crisp iron shot with the proper trajectory and distance, you need to hit the ball with a descending angle. Let the club work down into the ground through the hitting area as your body unwinds to the target (photo above). This produces the correct impact position where the ball is contacted first, and a slight divot occurs on the target side of the golf ball. When you let the clubhead work down into the ground through the hitting area, the ball contacts the clubface high enough to take full advantage of the loft and the face grooves that combine to send the ball on the proper trajectory.
Equip Myth: Larger Heads Have Larger Sweet Spots
First, the sweet spot isn’t an area of the clubface; it’s actually a pinpoint on the strike area where the CG is optimized. Manufacturers can’t really increase the size of the sweet spot, but they can increase the forgiveness of the area around it by using variable face thicknesses, increased perimeter weighting and backweighting—elements made possible by increased head volume. However, since the sweet spot is so small, sometimes having a smaller-headed driver will help you become more adroit at hitting the sweet spot more often. To some, increased forgiveness perpetuates off-center strikes.
LPGA teaching professional Lana Ortega is the director of instruction at the McGetrick Golf Academy (www.mcgetrickgolf.com) in Denver, Colo. Special thanks to professional clubfitter John Tudor of Savile Row Golf (www.savilerowgolf.com) in San Diego, Calif., for the Equip Myths and photo model Michael Young.