Getting Rid of My Slice
50 Yards in Four Months?
Back in 2007, I was playing the best golf of my life. I had gotten myself down to a 5.9, was driving the ball well, and hitting very controlled iron shots. My natural shot was a high (what I thought was VERY high), slight draw. Late in that season, I played a round on a very windy day and really struggled to keep the ball low in the wind. If I remember right, I went from shooting in the 70s/low 80s, to a day when I was in the 90s. So I set out to try and find a way to hit a low ball off the tee. It turned out to be a huge mistake that really destroyed my golf swing for over a year.
How It Started
Mistake number one: I did not bother to go to my local pro to figure this out, I tried to figure it out on my own from some Golf Digest articles. Around that time, Golf Digest had run a series on Tiger Woods and his stinger 2 iron shot. I had a 2 iron...I can do this, right? So I took the knowledge from that article to the course and started work on destroying my golf swing.
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A few thousand golf balls later, I was able to on demand hit a low, piercing stinger shot that was very accurate and ran like crazy down the fairway. I was hitting 250-260 yard low shots with a 2 iron from the tee...awesome right? Yeah, not so much. In the process of learning how to do this, I managed to integrate a severe over the top move in my swing. I had been setting up with the golf ball very far back in my stance, just off my back foot. I would start the swing by taking the club severely inside (unbeknownst to me), get the club in a laid off position, and almost have to take it back outside to get the club on the ball. It produced a nice piercing shot, with a little cut on it, but absolutely destroyed the rest of my game.
Hitting that many golf balls really ingrained this move into my normal swing as well. And it took me quite a while to even realize what it had done. The fall of 2007, I had my little stinger shot, played a couple decent rounds, and then just practiced over the winter. Come spring of 2008, my over the top swing was now full in force. I struggled through the 2008 season with my full swing. My short and putting game got a lot of work and I had to really grind to eek out scores that were not completely embarrassing. I would play with friends that I had played with in the past and they would ask what happened to me. It was a real mess. But, mistake number two, I spent 2008 trying to fix this on my own.
Admitting Defeat - Visit to the TaylorMade Performance Labs
So, that brings us to 2009. Early in 2009 I had an opportunity to visit the TaylorMade Performance Lab at the Grand Cypress Hotel in Orlando, Florida. I met up with Travis Kent, the Manager and Master Club Fitter at the Lab and in no time I was fitted with a slew of infrared sensors and had a 6 iron in my hand. I took a couple practice swings and before I knew it I could see a three dimensional representation of my swing on the computer monitor. Below is a video capture of one of the worst looking swings I took while at the labs.
The TaylorMade Performance Lab can capture your swing like that using a technology called Motion Capture. You may have heard of Motion Capture from the Computer Gaming world or in Computer Graphic enhanced movies, like The Matrix. Basically they fit you with numerous reflective markers, strategically placed around your body: wrists, hips, knees, toes, shoulders, even your head. Those markers are picked up by nine separate infrared cameras positioned around the room. The computer then translates that information into a three dimensional representation of your swing. You can look at it from any angle imaginable and even in super slow motion.
Travis put my swing up on the screen overlapped with Justin Rose. How embarrassing. Instantly you could see just how far inside I was taking the club, and what awful positions I had gotten myself into. Travis gave me a few pointers in the simulator to try and correct...take the club straight back...but alas, attempting to fix this while at the Labs was not possible. So we continued through the 6 iron, to the Driver, then a Sand Wedge and finished up with the putter. I learned that this little loop had worked its way into all of my swings and was even slightly noticeable on my putts. fortunately my putting stroke was pretty solid so it didn't affect my putting too much.
When you have gone through the entire fitting session the guys at the Lab will put together a little packet for you to take home. This includes swing data for each club printed out as well as a CD that includes the video of all of your swings. The CD includes a player utility that lets you view the swings in three dimensions (you can spin the camera around and look at any angle). It is pretty amazing.
At the time, my driver data was as follows: 140mph ball speed, 10.8 degree launch, 1590 rpm of back spin, 232 yards total distance. How awful! (Improved numbers, post lessons can be found later in the article). My six iron data was even more revealing: 80mph swing speed, -5.1 degree in/out path (coming over the top) and -6.8 degree angle into the ball (very steep). Amazingly enough, the average impact location was pretty close to the sweet spot, and I did manage to get the club face square to the target line. So this resulted in playable shots, but I really needed to have my timing on that day to play half decent. The great thing is you get all of this data printed out, and you can refer to it later on (like say 4 months later!).
In addition to all of this info, you will receive club fitting information. That includes the proper lie angles, suggested TaylorMade club models, lofts, shaft stiffness. It is pretty neat. Travis mentioned they would usually take you out onto the range with the suggested clubs and have you hit balls until you are comfortable with a set make up that matches up with YOUR swing. I did not go through this part of the process as my swing obviously needed work, and the suggested clubs were actually pretty similar to what I already had been playing.
Honestly, this was an eye opening, unique experience. Without it, I probably would have gone on struggling with my own swing fixes. Having seen what I saw, I knew I had to get some 'professional' help and get my swing back on track!
Lessons and Developing the Inside Out Path Again
Shortly after returning from our trip to Orlando, I booked a lesson with Fred Glass, the Director of Instruction at the Learning Center at Neshanic Valley. I had not taken a lesson from him in the past, but have heard good things about him and the course is relatively close to home. Fred's first comment was pretty memorable, "You have more planes than Newark Airport." I had to laugh. Well, I explained to him a bit about my past with my swing, how my game had evolved, and what I had learned in Orlando. He had a good understanding of where I was at and where I wanted to be. He also understood that I was one who enjoyed practicing and needed really to feel my swing rather than have technical thoughts.
So, Fred gave me two drills to work on to get my swing back on plane. Drill number one was simple enough. Take a range bucket, flip it upside down and put it about 5 inches away from you past the golf ball, and about a foot away from the target (See picture below). This way, if you do end up swinging outside-in, you will hit the bucket on the way to the ball. Simple enough and a completely free training aid. This proved to be a great drill for me and really got my swing back to inside-outside.
Start with a 7 iron and take little half swings, really focusing on taking the club straight back and then coming slightly inside to out avoiding the bucket. If you find the bucket very distracting, this is a good thing. You will probably hit the bucket on numerous occasions...also a very good thing. Stick with the short irons, 7 iron, 8, 9, PW. Progressively work your way up to a three quarter swing, up to your full swing. As you move from half swings to full swing you will probably notice yourself hitting the bucket again...all good, just try to work on taking the club straight back, and then deliver the club back to the ball from the inside
The other drill involved taking the club severely outside and then severely inside to the ball with a very closed club face. Try to think Jim Furyk and exaggerate the loop. The concept here is to do the complete opposite of what I had been doing and gradually get back to a slight inside-outside swing path and get the club more on plane. I found this drill to be effective early on, but after a session or two I began sticking to the first drill with the range bucket.
The light red line below represents the path you take the club back, the dark red represents the path you take back into the ball. I would lay a 5 iron down on the ground along that dark red line in the picture and try to think about swinging along that path as I took the club back to the ball. Note the blue line there, one should address the ball with a very closed club face much like that. Lay the club on the ground, close the club face up severely, and then grip the club as you normally would. Take the club way out, swing way in, and you'll be surprised at the result. As soon as I started hooking everything like crazy, I moved over to the bucket drill full time.
Editors Note: Somehow I lost the pictures for this in the migration :(
About 6 weeks after taking this lesson, I scored my first hole in one! I had hit some nice shots in the past, been close to a hole in one on several occasions, but never actually dropped one in the cup. I hit a nice little 8 iron (Mizuno MP-57), which hit the front of the green, released, rolled into the cup, it was a thing of beauty. The best part was, I got to share it with my wife as we were playing together that morning.
So, the inside out path seemed to be on track. I started hitting the ball with a little draw again, and regained some distance. During this process, Mike Pedersen pointed me in the direction of a very interesting article (Focus on Pressure Points to Feel Lag) on generating lag in your golf swing. I had a read through it, and it made a lot of sense. It also seemed to align quite well with the range bucket drill I had been doing.
What I started doing, as suggested by John, was to take my 7 iron and take half shots (sound familiar?) and really try and feel a tremendous amount of pressure on your right index finger on the way to and through the golf ball. So, I lined up the range bucket on the outside (pictured earlier) and worked on getting that feeling. It took a few hundred golf balls before I could reliably feel and apply that pressure without hitting the ball thin. But wow, when you get it...you get it. The ball will just explode off the club face, you will hear that compressed golf ball sound, and wow...never have I spun so many shots back on the green. I would start by trying that 7 iron drill, hit a bucket of balls while trying to feel the pressure. I would also read through that entire article, including the comments, there is a ton of great information there.
The funny thing is, it turns out what I thought was a VERY high shot, really was not all that high. I have also found that I really was not hitting the ball as solid as I thought I was back in 2007. With the lag pressure on that right index finger strong and accelerating through the ball, I can really hear and feel a solid golf shot. I have also found that a compressed, well struck golf ball cuts right through the wind without the need of some super low golf shot (though I suspect a switch to the TaylorMade TP Red LDP ball may have also helped with the wind...have I mentioned I love this ball??).
So...another thing found, another new achievement in my golf game. A few weeks after starting to practice this lag technique, I had my first hole out from the fairway on a par 4. Eagle on hole #1 at Fox Hollow Golf Club. I had hit a nice tee shot down the middle of this dog leg right, which left me about 120 to the pin. Pulled my PING i15 PW and it landed a few feet past the hole, spun back and down into the cup...it may have even been a nicer feeling than the hole-in-one! (Side note here, both of these shots were with the new TaylorMade TP Red LDP Ball, which I absolutely love, and they are quite inexpensive these days...if you play the ProV1, check them out, you'll save some cash).
Fixing the Driver: Another Lesson
Now that my iron game was close to being on, I had to get my driver game back on track. While I had been able to develop that high, solid draw again with the irons, I was still struggling with keeping the driver in play. I found myself sticking to the hybrid off the tee on most holes, sometimes even leaving my driver and 3 wood in the trunk of my car. So, trip number two to the Learning Center at Neshanic Valley.
I setup another lesson with Fred Glass, with the intent of focusing on my driver swing. I met Fred out on the range and took a few swings with a 7 iron: all seemed good. Then I took a couple swings with the driver...and we immediately decided to go inside where he could get my swing on camera. The Learning Center has a nice indoor driving range setup with a simulator (not nearly as sophisticated as the TaylorMade Performance Labe) and a couple high speed video cameras. One can view your swing from behind or face on and also get launch monitor data on your swings.
Once again, the power of video proved itself to be invaluable when it comes to diagnosing a swing flaw. Turns out I was still getting the driver into a very laid off position and coming over the top. To prevent myself from hitting duck hooks, I had really slowed the release of the club and would either hit straight pulls or big 20-30 yard slices. So, Fred showed me my swing vs a couple pro swings, and to my surprise, the take away was pretty spot on. Up to the top of my back swing, you could clearly see the club was laid off (the shaft was aiming about 15-20 yards left of the target line). So coming back down to the ball, I ended up manipulating the club with my hands, taking it outside to try and get the club head on the ball. Then I would chicken wing through impact, trying to keep that club face reasonably square to my strange swing path.
Fred gave me a couple drills to work on, the first being trying to get the club shaft over my left hand rather than horizontal. That is to say, when I get to the top of my back swing, I try to feel as if my left thumb is under the golf club. I want to feel the weight of the club shaft pressing against my left thumb. This works really well with the lag pressure thoughts I have while swinging the irons. So back to the top, pressure on my thumb...and I know that I am probably pretty square to the target. Easy enough to practice, and not really a whole lot to think about technically...I like that! Ok, couple swings like that...balls started out right of target...and went another 20 yards right. I was not releasing the club, leaving the club face open to the target line, which puts a whole lot of slice spin on the ball. So, part two of the lesson: release the club. For me, this means try and roll that right arm over the left as fast as I possibly can. If this is unfamiliar to you, I have found two great drills that work well for it: Buy a Gyro Swing which will FORCE you to feel a proper release, or swing the club parallel to the ground (baseball swing style) and feel that right arm turn over the left at about the impact point.
So, how did it work out? About 10 or so swings in, I hit a 2 yard draw, 285 yards down the pipe on the simulator. 158 ball speed, 12.5 degree launch angle, 2400 rpm of spin. I'll take that any day of the week. Now, granted, that was one swing, and there were still plenty of off line shots. But, now I have something to work on, and have been taking it to the range for some practice sessions. I still do not trust it enough to take it on the course, but it is certainly getting there.
Morale of the story? If you have been working on your swing on your own, and have been struggling with it, fighting a slice, fighting a hook, not really enjoying the game as much as you know you should...do yourself a HUGE favor and visit your local PGA teaching professional. I have found most pros will try and work with what you have, and just try to change a little thing here or there. Take what the pro has to say with an open mind and really WORK on it at the range. Fixing your slice will not take an afternoon, it could take you months or an entire golf season, but trust me, it is possible! Unfortunately you cannot just buy an easy fix!
Hopefully I can get myself out to a TM Performance Lab again soon and see the results of all this swing work on their unique 3D golf simulator!
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