Lesson 9: The Simulator

Today was a great day in golfing terms. The lesson went well and I even started off hitting them straight, if a little flat. We worked a little on the first two stages of the backswing. First, really making sure my takeaway was right with my hands passing close over my toes and making sure that the club is not rotating around my body. And second, on the rotation up to the top of the backswing and making sure that the club face is square at the top. 

And it worked wonders. I was really hitting the ball consistently which has so far been missing from my practise. At the end of the lesson I spent some time on the simulator on a practice hole. And again every single ball was within feet of the target. Initially I was making 100-120 yards with each swing.

At the end of the lesson, Steve left me a lone to practise for the first time. I was worried it would go to pot and he warned me to stop if I started deteriorating but I spent a good 30 minutes just hitting that 6 iron. Shot after shot pinged down the middle to the target and as I started to imprint the swing mechanics into my muscle memory I was able to concentrate on my tempo. By the end of the half hour I was consistently hitting the ball 160-170 yards with my personal best at 180 yards with a 6 iron.  

Given where I started just 9 lessons ago - that's just 4.5 hours of lessons - I feel I've made real progress. Perhaps I will make it onto the green stuff after all....

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And the simulator is amazing. Besides the ability to play over 80 courses, including numerous world famous ones like Royal St. Andrews or Pebble Beach, it's an amazing training tool. I get to set a target area and then after each stroke replay the stroke, or more importantly investigate the wealth of stats that are available. There's the obvious ones like distance and club head speed, but for me at this time the graphic which shows you the club face is really great. It allows me to see exactly where I'm making small errors and to work on it. 

Lesson 8: Consistency

This will be a short blog post because there's not much to write. The lesson didn't start terribly well.

Left to start on my own, I was back to my slice. The backswing was fine but once I started on the downswing, I tensed up and tried hitting the ball. Gripping the club like a vice, driving through the ball again with my left arm rather than swinging with my right, and turning my head (and therefore my body) too early.

Perhaps it's because I've got some personal issues at the moment that I was all stressed out and tense. Or perhaps I'm just not able to get the consistency that I need. By the end of the lesson I was back on track. We went back to basics and went through the four stages in slow motion. At one point Steve was holding my head so I couldn't turn it. I started to concentrate on the tee underneath the ball and got back into my groove. 

So it seems my biggest problem is consistency. I need to be able to keep hitting every ball well. I'm not sure how to get there though...

Lesson 7: Driving it home

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Due to the summer holidays, it's been three weeks since my last lesson and since I'm currently banned from practising alone - for fear of either perfecting problems or getting "helpful" advice from friends -it's been three weeks since I last held a golf club. Both Steve and I thought the break may have severely damaged my swing but all was not lost.

About 75% of them were firing dead straight, and besides being a little off on the takeaway and a little static at impact it wasn't far off on inspection of the video. It didn't take long to get me back on track and I was hitting some lovely shots. It's amazing how little effort it required on the downswing when you've got everything set up correctly. The correct swing just feels fluid, graceful and the ball simply flies off the tee.

I was really pleased that everything hadn't gone to bits after our break and even more pleased that I could tell myself where I was going wrong by simply slowing down the swing and reviewing the video. One of my fears is that having spent lots of time and money obtaining the perfect swing that it would waste away if I didn't play or practice often enough. But today made me realise that if I can master this structured swing I should be able to maintain it in the long run. 

After hitting a lot of balls perfectly, I had my first go with a driver, a Callaway Razr Fit Extreme (where do they get these names from?). As somebody new to golf this was a very strange experience. It may sound really stupid to seasoned players but the damn driver is enormous, both in shaft length and the size of the head, but weighed no more than the 6 iron I've been using to date. 

Steve kept repeating "it's exactly the same swing." Obviously on my first swing I carelessly drove the ball into the side net with an enormous slice. After calming myself down, and going slowly through the stages of the swing, I was back on track and minutes later balls were flying off the tee so fast Steve had to tell me whether they had gone straight or not. And they did. They all bloody did. And again, it was effortless. I wasn't trying to smash the crap out of the ball; I just went through my motions. 

So today has been great. I had loads of fun and felt like I may actually be able to play a round of golf some day. And I also realised that it doesn't matter which club you learn on (although it's obviously easier with a mid iron due to the shaft length and loft) because you're going to use the exact same swing with every club in the bag. Except the putter... but I'll worry about that another day.

  

 

Lesson 6: Flying pigs

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So after feeling rather sorry for myself following my last lesson, I thought I'd see some flying pigs before I'd be fit to be let loose on a golf course. But today's lesson was remarkable. I thought it started badly with lots of work on my takeaway and backswing, but as soon as that was sorted everything seemed to fall into place.

I was concentrating on getting the takeaway and backswing perfect and forgot about everything else... and it just came together. I was hitting over 90% of the balls well (the odd one had a slight draw) and the swing felt fantastic: fluid, fast and easy. I believe Steve even described my swing as "athletic", much as one might describe McIlroy's swing, right?

Steve took a video of my new swing and then we compared it with where I started and it's completely different. In my original, virgin, swing I was swinging the club backwards around my body and hitting the ball with my whole body facing off to the right. He's emailing me the videos later and I will post them for all to see. He said I should soon be ready to hit a golf course and next time I will start to move through different clubs and to check my ball flight and distances on the simulator.

This feels like major progress for me. The only problem now is that I'm on holiday and wont have another lesson for the best part of a month. Let's hope that I'm still OK on my return. I don't want to get back into any bad habits. 

Lesson 4: Out of the frying pan

The reward for spending all weekend wandering around the house with a bloody frying pan was a fair degree of consistency today. About 80% of my shots were perfectly straight or, at worst, a tiny bit to the left. So I'm hoping to say goodbye to the pan.

Camilo Villegas

Camilo Villegas

My address, takeaway and backswing remain solid and by the end of today's lesson I felt like I had made two big improvements. First was the consistency (of sorts) mentioned above. And second, I was able to do this with a continuous backswing, transition, downswing movement rather than pausing at each stage.  I'm making progress slowly but I feel like I'm always moving forward and not spending much time doing things wrong.

There are still problems of course. I'm not hitting 100% of my shots straight and whenever I grip too tightly I still slice the ball. I'm also forgetting to finish correctly, instead focusing all of my mental energy on getting the downswing correct. That's what I recognise as faults anyway...I'm sure Steve can see many other errors.  

I now know what the correct swing feels like, and I can tell immediately where I'm going wrong in the swing when it does go wrong. These are essentially gripping the club too tightly and moving into the "chicken wing" position where my arms leave the body and my left elbow moves ahead of the club.  

On every swing I'm trying to visualise my wrists and arms and concentrate on making sure that the wrists are flat to the ball, that the club face is straight and my arms are locked and tight to my body: basically making sure I maintain that triangle that Camilo Villegas is demonstrating above.

So where next? Who knows. My next lesson is on Thursday and hopefully my consistency will continue to improve. Perhaps one day I will be able to use more than one club as well!  

Lesson 3: Playing with a frying pan

This morning was lesson number three. And following the problems I experienced yesterday, today started with a frying pan, as best explained by the video below:

Straight out of their book "Golf's Golden Rule", Steve wanted me to correct the wrist action which is causing me to badly slice the ball. As I described in my last post, I tend to lead with my left elbow and leave my right wrist hinged backwards, opening up the club face and creating a slice. After working with the frying pan I could feel the motion I need to perform with my right arm, which is much more like a tennis forehand than a cricket drive.

However, I noticed two areas that were causing me issues. First, I wasn't unhinging or uncocking my wrist on the first part of the downswing. Instead I was trying to do this as I was in the impact zone (and always failing). Second, I was gripping the club far too tightly. Whenever I loosened my grip slightly my swings were smoother, quicker and more accurate than when I grabbed the club as hard as I can.  I always thought that I would lose control of the club and swing if I held the club loosely but it's actually the opposite.

By the end of the lesson I had pretty much corrected the slice, although I continued to top quite a few of them. Today I felt quite a lot of improvement and I'm starting to feel how the swing should perform rather than just thinking how the swing should go. But I still don't have any consistency, and whenever I try and do the full backswing and downswing together in one continuous movement I slice the ball. I also don't think I'm turning my hips and knee in enough before contact. So there's lots of room for improvement still.

At the end I watched another client, Alex, in his warm up. He plays off 5 and has a nice swing. He was even able to flick between demonstrating my slice, a hook and the right swing because he has such a solid grasp of his swing. One day....

 

Lesson 2: The cricketer's curse

It's been a little over a week but yesterday I had my second lesson at the Knightsbridge Golf School. Yet another scorching day in London, so I was quite glad to get indoors. The place looked completely different since my last visit with new carpeting throughout. Note to self, I must update my review

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Straight onto the tee to see how much I remembered and sliiiiiiiiice. While Steve may have been trying to be nice it looks as though I've got the grip, address and backswing sorted. I can get through the stages to the top of the backswing in a consistent manner but on the downswing something strange happens and I seem to be leading with my hands before the ball and opening up the club face.

After much deliberation I think it's the curse of having played cricket at school. I'm leading the club with my left arm, elbow first and often slightly bent, and with quite a strong, straight wrist. My right hand in contrast seemed to be doing little but stabilising the club. That perfect triangle that I had established at the address and maintained through the backswing was now something like a parallelogram. Often in order to lead with my left arm my wrists would also rotate a little opening the club face.

Once I managed to focus on swinging with the right arm, loosening my grip on the club and becoming a bit more fluid I got a lot better. I hit a couple of cracking shots and I could just feel at impact that they were right. The ball flew off the club face effortlessly and the entire swing felt good.

But....and this is a big but, I wasn't consistent; I could hit no more than two good balls in a row without reverting to one of the flaws. Mostly I had corrected the slice and was getting the ball to go straight but there were lots of balls topped or even missed. Hmmmm. This golf malarky is hard. 

I'm back there this morning and now have lessons twice a week for the next few weeks. Let's hope I can build on this and get myself a consistent swing.