Swing Thoughts, Redux

I am frequently asked by students and fellow golfers about swing thoughts. I always respond with, "What do you mean by swing thought?" Most often their reaction is kind of a blank or bewildered stare. Most golfers are not really sure what a swing thought really is and how to use them to play better golf.
My first and best ever teacher, my Grandfather,  taught me that swing thoughts happen during four different events:
  1. Before the swing, pre-swing.
  2. Preparing to swing, set-up.
  3. During the swing, swing.
  4. After the swing, post swing.
Each if these types of thoughts should be sequential, structured, deliberate, important, impactful, personal and inspirational. Each of these thought processes should be practiced and polished.

The pre-swing. Decision making. 
  1. What's the lie, stance, and swing path?
    1. how does that impact the swing?
  2. What's the target?
  3. How far is it?
  4. What is the shot shape?
  5. What is the proper club?
  6. What is the correct swing?
  1. Swing rehearsal.
  2. Aim.
  3. Grip.
  4. Alignment.
  5. Posture.
  6. Clarity.
Swing. The golfer has made the right decisions, is in the proper set-up, NOW ACT!
  1. A single thought that is totally in the present.
    1. Tempo
    2. Balance
    3. Relax
    4. Contact
    5. Smooth
  2. Something that inspires the golfer to act in desired manner.
  3. Thought that is free of FEAR, UNCERTAINTY AND DOUBT.
  1. Were the decisions correct?
    1. Yes . . . rejoice.
    2. No . . . learn from it then rejoice.
  2. Was my execution correct?
    1. Yes . . . rejoice.
    2. No . . . execute a correct swing then rejoice.
So the swing thoughts have distinct but equally important purposes. The pre-swing insures that the golfer has the correct tool and goal in mind to give the best chance of achieving the desired outcome. The set-up puts the golfer in the correct position to confidently execute the desired swing. The swing thought clears the golfers mind of clutter, conflicting thoughts and destructive emotions, setting the scene for success. The post swing creates joy and confidence, while setting up the golfer to play one shot at a time.

You cannot control outcomes, you can only control your own decisions and actions.

Most Important: Direction or Distance

Students quite often ask me if they should spend more time working on distance or on direction. On the surface that seems to be a good question, however all that underlies that question is a different story.

For example if they are standing on the driving range tee box the question is different than when they are on or around the green. On  the green they are asking about distance CONTROL, on the tee box they are asking about how to hit it LONGER.

On and around the putting surface the question is valid, and the answer is DISTANCE. Most people miss more often and by a greater distance long and short than they will left and right. Learning to control distance when putting, chipping and pitching is by far and away the best way to lower your score. The shots around and on the green account for more than 2/3rds of most amateur golfers scores.

Back on the driving range tee box most amateurs would be well served on working to discover just how far they can consistently hit each club with a full, 3/4 and half swing. Knowing how far a full swing with a 6 iron will carry is more important than learning to hit it 10 yards farther.

Moving to the golf course the question changes again and neither distance nor direction is the most important. Direction is replaced with a small focused target and distance is replaced with correct club and swing choice. What is left then as the most important thing is EXECUTION!

That brings us back to the practice range with a new and inspired purpose, working to meld 3 elements into one consistent swing.

  1. Solid contact with each swing.
  2. Predictable ball flight (direction) with each swing.
  3. Reliable distance with each club.
Coming soon: Faults and Fixes, the workbook.


It's time to get SMART about becoming a better golfer.

Let's begin by setting some reasonable expectations.
Managing expectations helps you to approach the game more realistically. Without the pressure of unreasonable expectations to perform at levels beyond your skill-level you can relax and strive for more honest and achievable results. Don’t give up your desire to master this game, rather simply and honestly evaluate where you are and then set improvement goals that are:
  • Specific
  • Measured
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

Don’t just set a goal to be a better golfer, or even to shoot a lower score. Set very focused detailed goals, like, hit 10 fairways per round. While the goal should have long term impact, it should be about more immediate results. Setting a goal to qualify for the USGA Senior Open in three years is just too long. Ask yourself, “What can I do right now?”
The goal must be measurable and measured. That means you have to create a way to track your progress then actually keep track. Golf is an ideal sport for measuring, you can track the number of shots it takes to get the ball from tee to green, or the average distance you hit your 7 iron, or the total feet of putts holed per round. The more things you measure the better!
This simply means that you know the cost and are willing and able to pay it. The cost is more than just money, it includes time and effort.  Can you clearly state how much time and what kind of effort must be spent to achieve the goal?
Yes, it is different from achievable. Realistic has more to do with physical and mental capabilities. If you are 70 years old, it may be unrealistic to set a goal to drive the ball 300 yards.
Set a date. A target without a date is just a dream.
In the back of this book are examples of Goal Planning Sheets, and a sample of a goal sheet filled out. Feel free to make up your own, put them in a notebook along with several blank sheets, this is your mastery diary.
Work with an instructor who will help you create a target specific approach to overall game improvement. Pick a swing system that makes sense to you, and stick to that system. Believe me there are 100s or maybe thousands of different swing systems that are being touted today and the truth is they all work!
What I am discussing in this book is a system that is simple and effective and is at the root of every other system I have ever seen. I hope you enjoy the process. Remember the motivation to improve is different for everyone. The next section is intended to help you identify your motivators.
The Mastering Process
Golf is a sequential game, we play from hole to hole, shot to shot, no shortcuts. The mastering process to is sequential, no short cuts, and the golf swing is sequential. It is important that we follow the sequence.
    1. Mastering a new skill requires several steps

  1. Self-assessment. With solid data and careful examination, decide what the next improvement will be, carefully identify the performance goal and expected outcomes. This self-assessment must also include your abilities. You must know precisely what you are physically, intellectually and emotionally able to.
  2. You must know what to do. Simply put this means you need to learn how the game is played and how the swing is executed. A good teacher, videos, books and magazines can convey everything you need to know, to play golf; however knowing what to do is not the same as knowing how to do it.
  3. You need to know how to do it.  That means understanding the techniques and the proper motions of a quality golf swing. Posture, ball position, grip, balance, tempo and timing must be clearly understood before they can be executed.
  4. You must build the skills. Knowing what to do and how to do it will not make you a golfer. The teacher can help you with steps 1, 2 & 3 but you need a coach to help you through the skill-building step. Skill building is a long slow process that requires spaced repetition and a focused view on performing the new skill correctly.
  5. Making it a habit. Habituation is the process of making your skill a natural and automatic endeavor. You can only create a habit by using disciplined practice and focusing on the single element of skill that you are trying to habituate.
  6. Courage to act. Knowing what to do and how to do it, possessing the skills and having the correct habits will not help the golfer that lacks the courage to trust. Fear, uncertainty and doubt will destroy any golf swing.
  7. Start the process over on the very first step.
Ok, so we are now committed to an overall game improvement process, now what? Lets pick a few areas of the game to measure and to take a current assessment. If you are a new golfer you can skip this part, for now.
    1. To make it simple let’s break the game into 4 parts

  1. Tee Shots
  2. Fairway shots
  3. Short Shots
  4. Putts
For each of these parts there are three key factors
  1. Solid Contact
  2. Direction
  3. Distance
Take a few moments to rate yourself on each of these 12 criteria on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being outstanding. Or better yet, how many shots out of a 100 are at the level you desire. Include a simple narrative about each part of your game.

Tee Shots

Ok on 4 and 5 pars but very disappointing on the par 3s
Only hit one green on the par 3s
  1. Ok for the course I was playing but not long enough for better / longer courses

Fairway Shots

I tend to be a little fat and I hit ground  to early
Misses are to the right
Seem to be pin high unless I really chunk it
Short Shots

Feel myself slide forward then I chunk

Bump and run is great, lobs tend to be long


What can you say when you have 11 lip-outs? And 3 more that stop next to the cup that’s 14 strokes given away!
Byt maybe with a little less speed the lip-outs might have fallen in.

How did you do? Your direction off the tee is not so good? I’ll bet distance was an issue in most areas, too short off the tee and too long when you chip and putt. Solid contact on every shot is just a distant dream?
So now you have some solid areas for improvement, ask yourself this question, “If I improve what will it really mean to me personally? Is that important enough for me to invest the time, effort and money required to achieve that improvement?” If the final answer is “yes” then you have a goal and the motivation. With solid goals and sincere burning desire we can begin building an equally solid swing.
In his book “The Golfing Machine”, Homer Kelly goes to exhaustive lengths to explain the golf swing with purely physics, machine, and geometric terms and thoughts. Unfortunately he failed to understand that what makes a great golf swing is a great athlete. The athlete-golfer can create, improvise, manipulate, think and change. She can move the club with force or grace or both. Like a Nuryev or a Jordan the great golfer can seem to defy physical laws, and almost always challenges or disregards convention.
I do believe ‘Everyone Can Golf’, however not everyone can be Arnold Palmer. So we are going to construct a swing that is right for you; your athletic ability, your hand eye coordination, and your intellect. The four abilities listed below need to become skills and once again we build those skills sequentially.
Four Repeatable Skill-Sets Required to build a Successful Golf Swing
  1. Posture, Grip and Alignment:  Connections to the Ground, the Club and the Target. How we connect ourselves to the ground, and to the club and finally to the target itself determine how successful the swing is ultimately going to be. Not all great golfers stand over the golf ball the same way, they don’t all look alike, they don’t even hold the club in the same way. Personality, body types, physical ability and desired outcomes all effect how the great golfer stands to the ball. However while great golfers don’t all stand the same way, the individual great golfer does stand the same way each time she addresses the ball. Posture and alignment create the opportunity for exquisite smooth and balanced golf. The correct posture and alignment builds the human body into an integrated machine, connecting the feet to the ground and the club to the hands.
  2. Sequential Rotation: All good golfers rotate around a fixed axis: the head, neck and spine with a consistent sequence. As the golfer’s game improves so does the sequential rotation and more importantly as rotation improves so does the game. It becomes more graceful, forceful, accelerating, balanced and repeatable. The rotation becomes athletic, it moves into and with every aspect of the swing and every part of the body, if it’s moving it’s rotating. Everything that moves during the golf swing must be rotating. Rotation is the source of the power of the golf swing, much like the eye of a hurricane, the more stable and organized the eye of the storm the stronger and faster move the outer-bands. Building this level of skills mandates purposeful practice, practice aimed at improving our ability to rotate while creating the skills to repeat the sequences.
  3. Rhythm and Tempo: All top athletes at one time or another have described being in the zone or feeling the rhythm. That game or event when everything seemed to flow with ease, never rushed. Golf is an athletic event, played with an internal rhythm and tempo. Some sports have moments when the rhythm and tempo are internal, the pitcher in baseball, the free-throw in basketball, the compulsory exercise in skating. At other times the rhythm is purely external, the batter responding to the slow curve, the skater to the music, the basketball player defending the driving lay-up. Most athletes describe the internal rhythm activities as the most difficult. Golf’s rhythm and tempo is purely internal, great golfers seem to posses a perfect sense of rhythm and timing. Golfers are the drummers of the sports world.
  4. Hitting the Ball/Ground with a Firm Lead Wrist: The golf swing is an arc that bottoms out at the ground. Every swing from driver to putter has the bottom of the arc at the ground, every swing except the driver and putter and a few teed-up shots contact the ground. The better the golfer the more control they have over the bottom of the swing arc. Great golfers can put the bottom of the arc exactly where they want. When the golfer masters this skill set they can control the direct, the flight and the distance of the gold shot.
These four abilities are intertwined each dependent on the other. With no turn there is no distance, without a consistent rhythm there is no predicting the ball’s flight. Over and over again as you examine your swing you will see that improvements in the basic four abilities will result in huge improvements in your game.