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Fundamentals Is Golf Different From Other Sports?
If you read most golf books, or listen to many past and modern-day teachers, you would have to answer this question with the affirmative.
I've heard well-known teachers at workshops around the world say that everything you do naturally at golf is absolutely dead wrong. The same teachers tell students that golf is a left-sided game, and unlike any other sport. Furthermore, the movements of the golf swing are unnatural. I say this is probably one of the chief reasons golf is so difficult for many people to learn, and why so many beginners give up the game after a few lessons. You see, golf is not different from most other sports, in terms of the basic body movements involved. It is remarkably similar to the throwing actions used by a baseball infielder, as Ben Hogan pointed out in his best-selling book, Five Lessons. In fact, it is similar to many other sports.
On the backswing, both the golfer and baseball infielder shift most of their weight to the right side, while the right arm flows back and folds at the elbow. On the downswing, these players shift their weight to the left side, rotate around the left leg, then fully release the right arm. In both cases, their secret to generating good power is keeping the right arm and wrist relaxed or "soft," and using the body to create a whip and a repeating action.
Beginning in 1976, I had the opportunity to begin extensive work with Ken Venturi. Venturi was described by his mentor Byron Nelson as the finest iron player in the history ofgolf. That was quite a strong statement when you consider that Nelson is recognized as one of the all-time great players.
One of the first things I learned from Ken was that he relied heavily on the right side. Much of what he learned from years of personal work with Byron Nelson, and the countless practice and competitive rounds with Ben Hogan, focused on the right arm and right side of the body. Venturi is indeed a right-sided player. Since then, I've learned that many great players focus more on the right half of the body. The old clich‚ "golf is a left-sided game" perhaps is not so valid after all.
In 1977, I began to visit a new type of instructor. His name was Jimmy Ballard, and he was teaching golf in a remote part of Alabama, Pell City. The thing was, Ballard was booked two months ahead. You couldn't get in to see him any sooner. Plus he didn't just give half-hour lessons: He conducted two-day golf schools. Day one focused on the backswing; day two on the forward swing. Even the many PGA club professionals and PGA Tour pros who visited Ballard had to attend a one-hour introductory class, then go through the school. No private lessons for anyone not first attending the school.
There were several unique things about the Ballard school. Every school was full with players of all levels in attendance. The cornerstone of his backswing theory was employing a lateral shift into the right side. In the late 1970s, over one hundred touring pros visited Pell City for instruction. Ballard despised words like "pull," or "turn," so he would not use them in his teaching. He was a pure right-sided teacher.
Almost all of what Ballard did was unprecedented. He was unorthodox in every respect, including not being a PGA member. Nearly every established instructor I spoke with thought Jimmy was crazy. The old left-sided theory would not easily die. It was an accepted part of golf truth. Only I could further confirm, even back then, that what instructors taught and what great players actually did was often quite different. Years later, I would see several of those anti-Ballard instructors using Jimmy Ballard phrases and teaching exactly what they once criticized.
Throughout the 1970s, as golf exploded in popularity, the primary axioms taught in golf were: (1) don't move; (2) stay steady; (3) turn around a fixed center; (4) make golf a left-sided game; (5) keep your right elbow close to your right side; (6) pull the butt end of the grip at the ball; (7) keep your right side passive; and (8) drive the legs. Not all teachers were in this camp. However, a huge majority were. Most golfers and instructors were in the dark ages of teaching. They were teaching the old clich‚s and feels that simply were not factual. As Ballard and other insightful teachers say, "Feel will fool you." In other words, what you feel you're doing is often not what you're actually doing.
Ballard, Venturi, and Welty taught me to separate feel from fact. They encouraged me to take what a top tour player said he or she did during the swing, with a grain of salt. Furthermore, they taught me to analyze a player's swing closely, ideally on videotape, and determine for myself what was actually going on. Ever since, I've been a just-the-facts kind of teacher, who never forgets Welty's words, "Don't tell me, show me." I've learned from studying thousands of hours of film, videotape, and now computer technology that it's not what they say, rather it's what they do.
Almost every golfer will feel a certain move in a slightly different way. In fact, some golfers feel exactly the same move in exactly opposite ways. One will feel it with the right side, while the other with the left side. One will feel the pull, the other the push. My job, in this book, is to actually show you what I know happens in the golf swing regarding body movements and body sequencing. The X-Factor and other swing secrets come from extensive research and extensive observation. I've determined that just about anybody can write down a plausible golf-swing theory. They may even teach a good method that fits a certain number of students. What I hope to show you are the factual fundamentals of a sound swingnot what sounds good, not what is scientifically the perfect model swing; rather what has stood the test of timewhat works on the playing field under the stress of competition.
One thing many top PGA Tour professionals agree on is that the action of the right arm is critical to generating power in the golf swing. This action is very similar to the action used to skim a stone across the surface of a pond, or throw a ball. The right arm only works correctly and powerfully when the body is positioned properly, and moves in a certain simple sequence. By focusing attention on your right arm and right side, you will (if you are right-handed) generally improve much faster than trying to train your much less coordinated left side.
Byron Nelson has always called the right arm a "floater." By that he means the right arm is somewhat free in the takeaway. I really like this concept. It does not attach to the right side of the body early in the swing. Rather, it floats away from the body. This helps create width and leverage, and allows the right arm to become the swing's whip. If you tuck the right arm close to your body early in the backswing, you narrow your swing arc and weaken the turn of your upper torso. In short, you lose the whipthe power.
As important as the right-arm movement is on the backswing, it's the move from the top of the backswing to the beginning of the downswing that separates the top ball strikers from the average player. The sequence of motion for a throw is shift, rotate the body center, release the right arm. That's identical to the one used by top pros when swinging a golf club. That's a fact!
The action of the right arm is critical to power golf. The right arm only works correctly and powerfully when the body is positioned properly and moves in a simple sequence. Great players have always felt a sense of pull and hitting up against a braced left side. Early stop-action photography correctly showed tremendous lag in the hands and club on the downswing. When comparing the professional against the high handicapper, the easiest observation was usually the throw from the top by the high handicapper. The obvious conclusion was that the dominant right hand took over and ruined the swing. I say that conclusion is wrong. The sense of pull on the left side comes from good body work, and not from consciously pulling the left arm or the grip of the club. Do that and you'll never reach your power potential.
In teaching the golf swing, there are numerous disagreements among instructors about the various positions or movements. Possibly the most controversial topic concerns the pivot actions of the swing. Personally, I strongly believe in the two-pivot point swing. However, to be truthful, there are still many instructors who believe wholeheartedly in the one-pivot technique. These teachers usually convey their instructional message to students by telling them to:
1. Keep their heads rock-steady (the head is the swing center).
2. Swing around their spines.
3. Coil and recoil their hips in an imaginary barrel on the backswing and downswing.