What I miss about Golf…

Author: The Golf Sherpa  |  Category: Key Golf Fundamentals

Greetings dear readers…

During my injury induced hiatus, the Sherpa has had time to  deeply reflect on what makes golf such an integral part of my life.

Introspection brought about the most curious of truths.  Surprisingly…I don’t miss what I thought I would.

Oh sure…for the first couple of weeks I missed my new shiny driver…made with the same titanium alloy they used to fix the Sherpa’s badly broken wrist.

As the days went by, however, I found myself thinking less and less about “golf gear”  ( my grips, the newest style of golf shoe, etc).

Even later, I stopped looking longingly into my special “man closet” (designed by Mrs. Sherpa to corral the detrius of a lifetime collecting golf equipment). Up to that point I had been checking my beloved golf accouterments daily in some vague hope that if I did, I would feel satisfied somehow in a “golfy” sort of way…

Pathetic…

Kind of like when you open the fridge, even though you have no real intent to eat…you’re just “browsing” (as Sherpette #2 is fond of saying).  Don’t look at me that way…you know you have done this before.  Admit it…you’ll feel better.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.

At some point I even began leaving my brand new golf magazines untouched for a couple of days after Mrs. Sherpa had thoughtfully put them in my “to read” pile in my office (aka the “man room” where said “man closet” lives).

At this point I started to get nervous.  What next?  Will the Sherpa stop watching pro golf on TV? 

The Horror!

To calm myself and re-center my mind, I took a mental inventory of the things I still had a keen interest in.

  1. First, I have delighted in reviewing the fundamental mechanics of the golf swing.  In my studies I  have learned much about the swing and ball flight characteristics.  This intensive review effort is feeding a growing confidence that I will be both a much improved player and enlightened Sherpa for others seeking knowledge and guidance.
  2. I love being outside…enough said.
  3. I adore my friends and meeting people with the same interests.

Calmed now and in better control of my faculties, the Sherpa  finally made it to the golf course last weekend (after being cleared for “chipping and putting” only by “Dr. Sawbones”).

My enthusiasm was well curbed as I tried not to oversell myself on the idea of going to the golf course to “play”, when the doctor really hadn’t cleared me for removal of my training wheels.

I honestly thought, “well… I won’t play but at least I will be near it”, pathetically reasoning again that I was going to be content to just “look in the fridge”.

Then a wonderful thing happened.  I had the time of my life…

I was outside all day, hanging out with my friends and meeting great people.  G-Money asked if I would loop for him in an important golf tournament later this year…a sobering honor to say the least.

Just when I thought things could get no better, I was able to diagnose and help a fellow golfer who was topping his ball badly.  I changed one thing I saw in his grip and “bang” he started hitting frozen ropes down the middle.

The look on his face as he crushed it in front of his young son was invaluable…and tremendously fulfilling for me.

As if to reward my good deed the golf gods allowed my pent up potential and intensive studies to bear fruit. As proof,  I drew upon all of the things I have been working on during my studies and holed 3 chips.  I also putted better than I recall…

Ever…

Fan freakin’  tastic!

Bottom line: I guess each person finds his/her own path in golf and in the world.   For me it was about capability, camaraderie, nature and goodwill.

Luckily these things are priceless but cost nothing.

Play on…

The Sherpa

Do you know how to set up your “Setup”?

Author: The Golf Sherpa  |  Category: Practice Fundamentals

Well now…just when you thought the Sherpa was out for good…I AM BACK!

The arm still hurts quite a bit and the wrist is very very stiff, but I am in shape enough to write on a keyboard without “level 10″ pain so here goes…

As is well documented in my earlier post (replete with Xray), the Sherpa is using the untimely and excruciatingly slow recovery time (from a broken left wrist) to re-baseline my approach to golf.

A couple of posts ago, I talked about how I was going to attack the fundamentals and really re-evaluate my knowledge and approach to practice in particular.

Today, I will wax philosophic about how the Sherpa will re-tool his “set up”.

“Context please, Sherpa smartypants”, I can hear you already…

Simply stated, your “set up” position is the position you are in immediately before you swing the club.  It is literally how you are aimed.

The key is that whether you are deliberate or not, the “setup” defines where the ball is going to go…so it is very important that you understand and build it very carefully…if you intend to be consistent.

Think about driving a car and not knowing exactly how to use the steering wheel relative to the aim of the tires…if you lived long enough to pay them, your insurance premiums would be astronomical.

To keep my golfing “wheels” between the medians more often, I am going to recalibrate my “setup” and here is how…

Practice objective: Use fact based knowledge to practice the science of ensuring that my set up is calibrated with my grip and target so that I am consistently lining up on my target.

Key fact(s):

  1. A ball that spins sideways at a relatively high rpm when compared with backspin has as strong tendency (like a gyroscope) to move in the opposite direction of the sidespin applied to the ball at impact.
  2. Some balls are engineered to spin more than others.
  3. Long irons impart relatively low backspin…when compared with wedges.

Practice Regime:

The very specific objective is to calibrate my aim relative to the target or setup.  To do so I will optimize the conditions for practice and observable feedback, while removing as many variables from the system as possible.

From the facts and objective, therefore, I will use high spin balls and practice this module with only long irons.

Why?

I know what direction I am hitting it already.  (If you don’t,  try the 06/09/09 posting entitled “The Sherpa rises from the golf Ashes”.  It is a great little module on understanding where you are hitting it.) 

What I want to know now is how to build a set up that will get a ball to consistently travel to a target of my choosing, WITHOUT SLICING OR HOOKING after I have sent my pill on its merry way.

To do so, I have to calibrate two key variables: Grip and Aim. 

Why Grip and Aim?

Grip defines clubface, therefore, spin.  Aim is the path the ball is intially put on by the swing.  When these work in unison you can send the ball to the target.

It will be especially important that you pick a day with very little wind to perform the following practice steps:

  1. Warm up and hit 10 low spin balls (range balls are ok) with  a wedge taking close notice to what path you are putting them on. Don’t worry about spin, just what direction you are sending them in.
  2. Now hit ten more at a target or until you can hit it at a target relatively well…we are not looking at perfection, just “hand grenade” close.
  3. Next take a long iron (3 or 4) and hit 10 high spin balls, aiming the same way you hit the wedge.
  4. Note how the ball spins…only casually noticing direction (you should be hitting the side of a barn at least based on your “rough” aim preparation in step 1 and 2). Obsess only on spin bias.  The holy grail is a personal personal “neutral grip”.
  5. Hit more balls using the following guideline:
  • If it hooks or even draws,  weaken your grip and keep hitting balls and adjusting your grip until they go straight.
  • If it slices or even fades, strengthen your grip and keep hitting balls and adjusting your grip until they go straight. 

Once you can hit balls with little spin bias (neutral like a “knuckleball”), all you have to do is….tweak your “aim”.

How?

If you noted, for instance, you were hitting it a little right of the target when your ball started going straight (ie with no sidepsin)…aim a little left…without changing your grip.

Viola! You will be in your personal “setup” that is aimed at the target with no sidespin…beautiful.

Special note:  Though I adore you for reading the Sherpa’s musings, I don’t want to over sell this practice module.  Your results will vary depending on your skill level, so stay with it…it’s why they call it “practice”…not “review”.

Trust with the energy of a zealot, however, that the approach is sound and will lead to good results.  Learning to practice properly is a fundamental requirement, and the Sherpa wants you to continuously improve.

Play on…

The Sherpa

Only seven minutes could be separating you from “Scratch Golf”…

Author: The Golf Sherpa  |  Category: The Mental Golf Game

 The other day a long time friend of mine asked me, “Sherpa, how long does it normally take you to play 18 holes of golf”?  Instead of blurting out “4 to 4/12 hours” I stopped short and replied, “I will have to think about that”. 

I can hear you thinking, “Sherpa, its a no brainer.  You were asked for the time, but are building a watch instead”. 

Indulge me dear reader….you see, simple queries like this used to invoke similar mindless responses, but since humbly taking on the role of Sherpa, they now send me on journeys of the mind which never cease to challenge and amaze me.

The real answer, as you would expect from the Sherpa’s predictable “MO”, was much more complex and interesting.

How would I frame the context for my reasoning?  Let’s think  ( you and I)  about how we will define ”playing golf”.

I have already defined ‘playing golf’ in several of my previous posts so I will not wax philosophic and waste your limited time.  I merely posit that playing golf is when you are planning shots, aiming at targets and focusing on getting the ball in the hole (to the exclusion of any other motivation or distraction).

Now let’s look at what happens in your normal round (not counting warm up)….

As your group  approaches the first tee, you figure out who will tee off first, you talk about sports…economics…the latest movie…whatever floats your boat…

Then finally someone hits a tee shot and the round begins.

Next, everyone loads into their respective carts and continues discussing the newest car…micro-brew or argues the virtues of Ales vs Lagers.

Then you reach your ball, decide on a target, line up your shot and send the ball to the target.

This delightful cycle continues until you reach the 18th green, the pill goes in the hole…and its back to the real world.

Here is the essential question…How much golf did you really play?

Was it when you were discussing your sinking 401k or when you were contemplating the ultimate Scottish golf trip?

Both are fascinating topics but neither activity would be considered “playing golf”… even by the loosest standard.

You  are now no doubt asking, “Sherpa, could we get to a point…sometime today”?

Fear not dear reader…we are now at my surmise. 

I would argue that if you take 20 seconds to line up a target, commit and and make a swing, then golf  takes about 20 to 30 minutes per round (depending on your handicap).

Below is the Sherpa’s handy dandy illustration of the central point. 

——————————————————————————

92 Shots x 20 seconds of focus per shot = 31 minutes of golf time

72 Shots x 20 seconds of focus per shot = 24 minutes of golf time

Difference in golf time (92 strokes vs 72 strokes) = 7 minutes

——————————————————————————

What you will note immediately is that if you take 20 seconds to hit a golf shot and shoot 92, only seven minutes separates you from a scratch golfer. 

Why then is this valuable information?  The pro’s know why…

Think about what happens in the 20 to 30 minutes of “real golf”.   To execute at peak capability in those key moments over the ball, you have to stay razor focused on the target…to the exclusion of all other thoughts or distractions.  A difficult task to day the least…

So that you don’t think that the Sherpa has somehow morphed into “Captain Obvious”, see for yourself how tough this really is.

To illustrate, take a moment and see how long you can close your eyes and think about the word “golf” without having any other thoughts….

If you are anything like the Sherpa (when he first tried this test years ago) your brain went…”golf, golf, golf, golf, hmmmm, golf is great, my knee itches, golf, am I late for something?, golf, I’m hungry, I hope Mrs. Sherpa is cooking dinner, Oh Crap!…I am supposed to be thinking about golf, I love jelly donuts”.

The mental energy it takes to stay focused (even for a few seconds) is taxing and to make things more unfair, “scratch” players (people who shoot par) have 7 less minutes of this focus requirement per round.

The Sherpa, believes that knowledge is power…so how are we going to give you more power?

Let’s seek to optimize what happens during those 30 minutes each round, so that fewer of these 20 second moments (ie strokes) are required per round.

The template is already out there, and you can see it when you watch pros play.

With the exception of Tiger, most golfers are just like us, they focus and hit shots, then they tend to try to relax and stay loose….just like a 20 handicapper.

So how do we differ? 

The magic is in those 20 seconds over the shot.  During these moments pros and “scratch” golfers are not doing the shopping list or worried about score…they are sincerely target focused, committed and just reacting.  They may look on the outside like they are concenrating hard, but on the inside…all you would hear is crickets.

How can you train your brain to enter a focus state like this?

Brain exercises?   The Sherpa believes so..These guys do it all day every day as a natural part of playing and practicing.  If you are like the Sherpa, time is limited and the only way to “train the brain” (without hitting a bazillion shots a week) is to do focused mental exercise.

The Sherpa does this ”old school” with daily 10 minute sessions of meditation.

For hundreds of years, meditation has given everyday people improved mental focus by gradually training the mind to focus on single distinct thoughts.

What you are trying to achieve is a mental state capable of concerning itself with sending the ball at the target…no muss…no fuss.   The cool thing is that the brain, much like  a muscle, won’t care if it is hitting a golf shot or trying to focus on a single thought (as part of a meditation exercise).

The Sherpa swears by the little exercise I do each day to keep myself mentally sharp. 

Details:  Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.  It helps if you are in a quiet, dark place.  Next set a silent timer for ten minutes.  Now concentrate only on the sound and feeling of your breath.  Feel how it moves in and out of your lungs.  Feel how is moves through your nose and down your windpipe.  Listen to how it sounds.  If it helps, think “breath, breath, breath” with each inhale and exhale.

Almost immediately your mind will wander.  Your brain is just being…well…”brainy”.  Just gently bring your thoughts back to your breath (from cheeseburgers, Cuban cigars or whatever your mind was distracted by).

This cycle will continue to recur but you will notice over time that you begin to witness these thoughts, almost as a bystander, instead of living them.

When you can separate yourself from your thoughts and witness them separately from your mind, then you achieve what Meditation gurus call “awareness”. 

Awareness is the closest we get to mind control.  In other words, you cannot totally control your mind, but once you understand how yours works, you can keep it much more quiet and focused. 

Bottom line: You will probably not become a world renowned golfer..or meditation Yogi, but if you commit to even 10 minutes a day, you can improve your mental focus and the benefits will reach well beyond your game and those cool 30 minutes of golf you play each round.

Play on…

The Sherpa