Like Archibald Mealing, the hapless golf-loving protagonist in one of P.G. Wodehouse’s delightful short stories, the club golfer is one in whom ‘…desire greatly outruns performance’. And yet, there’s no dearth of amateurs who love to freely dispense unsolicited swing instruction to anyone within earshot. Not surprisingly, most of these pundits can’t seem to apply that knowledge—mostly half-baked—to their own games. The golf swing has spawned wonderful and complicated theories: from the age-old ‘keep your head down’, to the myth of the ‘late-hit’, and the importance of ‘driving your hips’. These are just three of a treasure trove of ‘tips’, some of which have been around for almost as long as the game itself. The hapless weekend golfer laps them all up in the vain hope that one of these elusive ‘secrets,’ will help him ‘figure out’ the golf swing, once and for all. We all know how it’s supposed to be done, yet are none the wiser for it.
The problem lies in the fact that, unlike the action in most sports, the golf swing is counter-intuitive. To hit it far, you can’t hit the ball hard; to curve the ball in either direction, the club has to go in the opposite direction after impact; and most crucially, what you think your body is doing when you swing a club, is, largely, a figment of your imagination. There’s nothing quite as sobering as watching a video of your own golf swing—be gentle, if it’s your first time.
I’ll never forget the sheer disbelief of watching a replay of what I thought was my well-practiced explosion shot from the trap. Again, to quote Wodehouse I looked more like a man ‘…killing snakes in the bunker’. It wasn’t pretty. If you can steel your heart, record yourself and watch, you’ve taken the first step in getting better. The second step is realising that you need help.
Given that fact it’s amazing how many golfers (this writer is no exception), after years and years of futile striving, persist in trying to ‘figure it out’ on their own, not realising that it takes a trained eye to spot issues in a golf swing. Golf isn’t like religion, goes the popular adage…devotion isn’t quite enough. You need a structured roadmap for how you’re going to do it. And here are a few pointers.
Get a Lesson: Understand that by going to a coach you’re not going to go the Tiger Woods way to building a brand new golf swing. You just won’t be able to do so if you’ve been playing for a few years. To do that requires the kind of time and effort that you’re unlikely to be able to put in. What getting a lesson will achieve is that your basics—grip, address, stance—and swing fundamentals will get checked and corrected by someone who knows what errors to look out for. Most swing faults originate from a faulty grip or stance, and it’s almost impossible to spot and correct them yourself. Commit to the changes the coach advises, and put in a few hours every weekend at the range before your fourball tees it up.
Replace your golf clubs: With the astonishing advancements in golf club technology, if you’re playing with clubs older than four years, you’re already robbing yourself of consistency and adding a few shots to your score. Modern cavity-back irons are designed to forgive off-centre hits and minimise sidespin. If you’re really struggling then consider getting game-improvement irons. You can’t slice a ball with these if you tried! Put a rescue club in your bag if you haven’t already—these can be hit from bad lies, and the rough, while giving you the same distance a mid-long iron. Needless to say, unless you have a low handicap, a long iron has no place in your bag.
Get Fitted: This one is crucial, especially for experienced players. Your swing is unique to you and trying to play with stock clubs bought off the shelves is akin to buying a ready-made suit—it might work, but will never fit you like a glove. You get the suit tailored. The same goes for golf clubs. Whether you’re buying new clubs, or persisting with your old ones, it’s imperative that you get them properly ‘fitted’. Even a minor change in the set-up of your clubs can go a long way in improving consistency, and help you realise your golfing potential.
One of the most common misconceptions that amateur golfers suffer from is that club-fitting is the exclusive domain of the professional or low-handicapper. On the contrary, good players are able to adjust their swing to a club that doesn’t suit their swing. Club golfers in the same scenario will struggle to adapt, and tinker with the wrong things. Your clubs need to be tailored for your swing, not the other way round. Right from grip thickness to the flex, length, and weight of the clubshaft, and all the way to how the clubhead sits on the ground, and the amount of offset that it has—everything can be fitted to suit your golf swing.
Deliberate Practice: You can hit thousands of golf balls and not improve. Practice helps when you have a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve, and know how to go about it. Which brings us back to the absolute necessity of having a coach analyse your swing from time to time. Changes in the golf-swing are difficult to integrate just by feel. And when you’ve been making a wrong move for a while then it’s going to feel natural. Any change to that, is not.
Persist with the changes, make a lot of videos of your swing at the range, and don’t revert to your old swing habits when you go out on the course. Especially if that means going ape on the ball. Golf rarely rewards the player who smashes the ball with all his strength with every club in the bag. Stop playing long drive, and start playing golf.
Meraj Shah is a Delhi-based writer and television producer.