When I first started playing golf my swing was amazing—at least I thought so. The problems in my game came from the wrong clubs, the wrong golf balls and the wrong tees—essentially, all of the equipment in my bag. Once I started replacing my generic equipment with better-designed alternatives, I soon realized that those elements would only get me so far—I needed to examine my swing.
When you really think about the game of golf, the physics involved are completely awe-inspiring: a human being whacks a slightly less than two-inch ball several hundred yards across varying terrain, landing that ball inside a hole less than five inches in diameter. Many times in as few as three strokes. How is this possible? Golfing technology has played a large part in shaving strokes off the game, but ultimately the answer is the golfer’s swing.
The perfect golf swing takes advantage of the science mixed up in how a golf ball travels through the air. When the ball takes flight, several things have to happen to create a great shot: the ball has to have spin, trajectory, and speed—and all in the proper amounts relative to the shot you are trying to make. In order to control spin, your swing has to deliver the correct club-head angle. In order to convey the proper trajectory, your swing has to address the ball at the proper position. In order to provide speed, your swing has to progress through the proper series of body motions. That’s a lot going on in just one swing!
As a beginner to the game of golf, I couldn’t afford to sink a lot of money into private lessons. As a result, I spent a lot of time working on my swing by trying methods and techniques I read about in popular golf magazines. Most of these techniques utilized well-crafted graphics with a lot of arrows and talk about a “C”-shaped swing. While this was helpful in allowing me to visualize what my swing should look like, it did little to give me a practical application of that information. I spent time videotaping myself, standing in front of mirrors—not to mention hours watching professionals play on television.
But I still couldn’t find that perfect swing.
The biggest problem I had was that I had an idea of a perfect swing, but I wasn’t addressing the specifics behind what was wrong with mine. Over time, I realized that I didn’t have a terrible swing; I just had a good swing with a tendency to fade. I was satisfied with the distance I was getting (speed), I could generally control the direction of the shot (trajectory), but I had a real problem with my shot sliding to the right on me as I played off the tee.
The most common swing problem in the history of golf is the slice—an unintended movement of the ball (for a right-handed player) from left to right while the ball is in the air. As I played, my fade would progress to a slice in direct response to my building frustration. When I found out a slice is common to most golfers, it didn’t make me feel better, it made me even more frustrated—I didn’t want to be average, even in my errors!
The best part about having a swing marred by a tendency to slice is that a slice is correctable—apparently, golfers who tend to hook (unintentionally moving the ball right to left while in the air) have a much harder time correcting their swings. With a little research, I found hundreds and hundreds of products designed to assist me in straightening out my little problem. But as I said before, I didn’t want to spend the money! Lucky for me, I did have a spare empty box lid from a box of golf balls.
There are many factors involved for creating a slice, but the physics come down to the ball spinning on the wrong axis while in the air. Draw a black line around the exact center of a golf ball, and point that line at a target. If the ball spins forward exactly on a center axis, it will fly in a path directly towards the target without shifting in flight. If the ball spins even slightly off that axis—spinning slightly to the right or left, it will curve in the air. This is because the dimples in the ball create a shift in pressure around the ball, similar to the way a pitcher uses the seams to create a curve ball in baseball. The ball may begin traveling in a straight line, but if it is spinning to the right, it will ultimately move in that direction. So, the problem lies in controlling the ball’s spin. And what controls spin? The angle of the club-head when it strikes the ball.
Problem solved! But not quite. The reason my club-head wasn’t striking the ball correctly could be attributed to several possible errors—closing or opening the clubface, getting ahead or behind my hips in the late stage of my swing, an improper grip on the shaft, etc. But you address these same issues for nearly every other swing problem! I was back to square one! Only this time I was armed with the right information. I knew that my problem was spin.
I reviewed the video tape of my body in motion and I paid particular attention to the details of my swing: grip fine, hips fine, clubface open fine, follow through—not fine. It seemed I had an abnormality in my follow through. I went back to the articles I had read on correcting swings and I found a great piece of advice that ended up costing me absolutely nothing. The article encouraged me to place the lid from a box of golf balls on end about eighteen inches in front of my stance. Using tees, I secured it to the ground so that it stood up without assistance, pointing in a line towards my target. I addressed the ball with the lid to my left, and as I finished my stroke, I had to avoid hitting the box lid. Voila! No slice!
I now make it a habit of using my little trick before every round to remind myself of the correct follow through for my swing. It’s not a fancy fix, but it works, and it didn’t cost me anything for my troubles. It took a lot of analysis to make it happen, but I’m now a much happier golfer. I still slice from time to time, but at least I now know why, and what I can work on for the future. It turns out my equipment was fine, I just hadn’t really understood the owner’s manual.