Chi-Power Golf Part 19 - 4 Fundamental Actions for Better Golf
Jayne Storey’s chi-power GOLF is based on timeless principles from the ancient wisdom traditions such as Buddhist Meditation and Tai Chi and has been called the ‘missing link’ in player performance. This missing link is the ability to unite mind and body to produce a fluid and powerful shot and maintain this connection when under pressure. Here she discusses Tai Chi’s 4 Fundamental Actions and how your game can benefit today
Tai Chi is becoming ever more popular as a way to help golfers play their best. The latest Annual Review of Golf Coaching – “a peer-reviewed publication (designed) to bridge the gap between scientific and practical knowledge in golf “contains a number of articles in relation to this ancient art and how it serves to improve performance in golf.
Peter Lightbown, author of The Fairway Within is a British golf coach now living and teaching in Sydney, Australia. He writes in the Annual Review of a number of alternative methods used in his approach to golf coaching including Tai Chi, Zen, the Alexander Technique and Yoga. Of Tai Chi he writes: “Tai Chi is often referred to as a moving meditation and I feel golf can be seen in the same light. A sport with a static ball lends itself to a meditative approach…Tai Chi helped me understand the vital role of the centre of the body and how we can use breathing to help connect us with our centre. I was also influenced by the practise in Tai Chi of learning the sequence of movements first and then performing it without thinking about how.
This is very important in a golf swing, because the main problem is over-trying or over-thinking which gets us in a cycle of tension and self-doubt. Learning the movement slowly and then teaching the body to act unselfconsciously provides a great antidote, and this became a crucial part of my approach to teaching the swing”.
As a Tai Chi practitioner and instructor for the past 24 years I wholeheartedly agree!
Tai Chi teaches the fundamentals of effective motion, which begin with good posture, balance and relaxation, coupled with an internal focus on the body’s centre of gravity (the t’an tien or navel area) which allows for deep and rhythmical breathing.
The difference this awareness can create in your golf swing and general performance around the course is subtle but immensely powerful. Here’s a case in point to illustrate.
I recently coached a young woman professional golfer who was preparing to compete in the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie. She came to see me after reading the previous article on chi-power GOLF in a previous issue of Golf International (103), where I talked about Tai Chi loosening exercises to develop more power off the tee. This is something she’d been trying to develop with her swing coach and with the help of her strength and conditioning coach in the gym.
After spending just two hours together, she learned how to incorporate some fundamental Tai Chi principles into her set-up and she did indeed hit the ball much further during the session. Speaking to her on the phone a week later, she was overjoyed at her better ball striking and improved distance and commented that her swing coach apparently was a bit baffled as he could see a difference in her set-up, ball striking and the distance she hit the ball but he couldn’t understand it or explain it.
Now I’m not saying this to blow my own trumpet – after all I didn’t create these exercises myself (some of them are hundreds if not thousands of years old!) – I’ve just made a career out of applying the timeless principles I’ve learned from Tai Chi to help people play better golf.
It’s easy to get caught-up in the traditional consensus approach to golf coaching but as I’ve said before Tai Chi may not be the traditional way but it is the original way to develop fluid, powerful motion, enhance the mind-body connection and maintain superior performance under pressure.
Of course psychology, the ‘mind game’ of golf has a lot to offer but where a choice exists between where to invest your practise time (and of course your money!) Tai Chi golf-specific coaching offers you a simple and direct way to make lasting improvements as it develops both your mental game (producing a state of relaxed concentration) and improves your biomechanics (producing fluid, effective and powerful motion).
Let’s look now at what are called the 4 Fundamental Actions of Tai Chi and how they can improve your set-up, your backswing and your finish position.
The 4 Fundamental Actions of Tai Chi
1) Hollow your chest by breathing out and slightly sinking your sternum
2) Draw in the navel and neutralize the pelvis, allowing tailbone to point downwards
3) Sit down into the tops of your quad muscles, slightly creasing the tops of the legs where they join your torso
4) Fill up your footprints, by becoming aware of your feet in contact with the ground
The above actions occur simultaneously, producing a downwards compressing force that lowers both the centre of gravity and mental awareness, creating a more stable platform from which to swing and producing more ground-force energy with which to power longer drives.
The actions are subtle and require sensitivity and awareness to perform properly. As with all Tai Chi principles allow your mind to lead and your body to follow.
Applying the 4 Fundamental Actions to Your Game
In the following images you can clearly see the difference between the positions where tension and use of muscular energy dominates versus the same positions where Craig Matthew (Assistant Pro at North Hants Golf Club) is employing the 4 Fundamental Actions of Tai Chi to compress himself into the ground for better balance and relaxation.
Relaxation is the key to explosive power and this begins at address where any use of force or tension will rob you of energy and reduce your ability to swing smoothly and freely. Moreover as the mind and body intimately affect each other, tension in your body at set-up will produce mental anxiety.
The quality of your set-up (the gap before the motion) dictates the quality of the motion (swing). Take your time to fully engage with the ground by hollowing the chest and sitting down into the tops of the quads to give you added stability and the sensation of rooting into the ground. Make sure to fill up your foot-prints rather than sitting back on your heels.
Top of your back-swing
Tension or use of force at the top of your backswing is a waste of energy and negates power. In fact, I don’t even like the term “swing” as this implies a pendulum- like motion where there is equal and opposite energy back and through whereas what’s required is a winding up of your energy (torque) so you can release it though the ball.
To develop explosive power, especially off the tee, you need to stay relaxed while being fully coiled at the top to gain maximum torque, still maintaining the 4 Fundamental Actions to compress into the ground. Stay rooted and relaxed here by emptying your chest, breathing deeply into the navel and feeling your feet in contact with the ground.
At finish any tension or force held in the position clearly indicates you’re still holding on to energy that should have exploded through the ball. At finish you should again be relaxed and rooted – your body now fully unwound and the energy now fully emitted and driven through the ball.