Back in to Play Mode
Brush up on your fundamentals with the Ladies British Open champion Karen Stupples and her coach, Chip Koehlke.
After a winter layoff I am more excited than ever to be back out on the range, getting my swing in shape for the new season. Winning the Ladies British Open gave me such a boost that I now feel I can take my game to the next level and become a regular contender wherever I play.
And as my coach, Chip Koehlke, is quick to remind me, doing that involves revisiting the good habits that brought me that success last year.
We don't ever get too technical - I'm simply looking to get back into 'play mode'- and that means taking a look at the grip, my posture, the first move away from the ball and the change of direction from the top .Those are the key elements we work on.
I hope that some of our ideas and thoughts over the next few pages strike a chord with your game, too.
First Things First
What we tend to find on our schools here at the Faldo Institute by Marriott is that a lot of common grip faults are a direct result of players using grips that are either too big or too small.
If the grip is too small, there is a danger that the right hand gets way underneath the grip, and the left hand too much on top - i.e. a so-called 'strong' grip. Conversely, if a grip is too big, you tend to find players struggling with a 'weak' grip. So, as you look forward to a new season's golf, see your pro and have your grips assessed to match your hand size.
One thing you will notice with Karen is that her arms appear to 'fit' her set-up comfortably in relation to her upper body (left). They sit neatly in front of her body, with the elbows nicely together.
Clearly, in dealing with this element of the posture, women do have to ensure that they get their upper arms on top of their upper chest. Many times women tend to bring their arms in too much from the side, and end up overly connected, which fails to promote freedom in their arm-swing.
But if you follow the routine that Karen is demonstrating- i.e. raising your outstretched arms in front of your body to shoulder high, then gently squeezing your elbows together as you lower the club to the ground, you will find that you achieve this 'connection' between your upper arms and your upper chest - and that will greatly help your swing.
A good swing is a fluent chain reaction, one that relies on timing the movement of your hands and arms with the rotation of your body. Work on this initial sequence of moves from the set-up to develop a truly co-ordinated motion.
1) Poised, ready to go. Arms and upper body comfortable, weight evenly spread.
2) The triangle of arms and shoulders is maintained as the upper body begins to rotate gently, drawing the club away from the ball. Subtle hingeing of the right wrist sees the clubhead gathering pace, weight is shifting to the right side.
3) Full hingeing of the wrists occurs as the hands reach waist high, the rhythm of the swing governed by the turning upper body.
MAKING THAT ALL IMPORTANT FIRST MOVE
Karen: For me, the key to getting off to a good start is that everything pretty much moves together. I don't think of moving my hands first, or the clubhead, or the left shoulder. From a balanced set-up, my weight evenly spread with the 6-iron I'm using here, everything moves away together, and that's what initiates my overall sense of rhythm. I make sure that I am comfortable over the ball, make a couple of waggles so that I don't get too tight over the ball (you don't ever want to move from a tense or static position), and then move my shoulders, arms, hand and the club as a unit.
I suppose the nature of the waggle does reinforce the fact that I want the clubhead moving and gaining pace a little more quickly than the butt-end of the club. That's only natural - after all, the clubhead has a little further to travel.
"As soon as the club starts to go back, my weight starts to shift across on to the ball of my right foot and my chin gives way, allowing the shoulders to turn freely. This is a subtle move I believe many amateurs can learn from. Whether they are afraid of moving their head, or simply feel uncertain about turning away from the target, I don't know. But you don't want to be standing there with thoughts of keeping your head still.
Allowing your head to rotate away from the target helps you to turn and shift your weight correctly. As soon as the club starts going back, you want to feel a slight weight change in your feet. You should be able to feel the tension building in the right thigh. By the time my hands reach hip high, the shape of my swing is dialled in. From here I simply continue turning my upper body to complete my backswing.
Chip: A few years ago, when Karen first came to see me, we worked on trying to get the clubhead going first, with the emphasis on moving the clubhead much faster than the hands, arms and body, because at the time Karen's tendency was to get her body going first. She was out of sync. We spent several weeks working on what you might call an early wrist set to get the clubhead swinging early, and to get the shaft up on end by the time her hands reached waist high. And of course this is the whole reason for taking regular instruction.
We ironed that particular flaw out of her swing and now, as you can see, she is so ingrained that she moves everything perfectly without thinking about it. The 'togetherness' of this sequence of moves away from the ball gets her swing perfectly sequenced. It's so simple, and it sets up the shape of the whole swing. Shifting her weight across in tandem with the movement of her hands, arms and upper body creates a wonderful momentum, too. This is something every golfer should try to copy.
SHIFTING THE GEARS
Chip: Let's now turn our attention to what specifically initiates the change of direction from the top of the backswing. Because for many players this is a real problem move, but one I think can easily be solved if you focus on the same swing thoughts as Karen does.
As an exercise, pick up a club and make your set-up with your rear-end up against a wall. Now, having made your backswing, the feeling you want from the top is that (and how best to phrase this?) your right butt-cheek stays back on the wall while the left re-rotates in the direction of the target (planting itself on the wall). It's not a sliding lateral move; it's a turning motion with the left hip. And that's what produces this dynamic 'squat' look that Karen has -and that all good golfers look for.
The other thing I would point out here is that the left shoulder is moving down and rotating left while the right shoulder and right hip hold a split second. So, it's left knee, left hip and left shoulder, while your right side holds.
[This, incidentally, is something that Nick Faldo used to talk about and was very good at - i.e. starting the downswing with a sense of rotating the left shoulder away from the chin, while the right side holds momentarily. The benefit is a wonderful sequencing of the downswing and terrific width through the impact area.]
MAINTAIN YOUR ANGLES
In this view of Karen's swing, look at the way she retains her posture throughout the change of direction. There is no loss of spine angle, no heaving of the shoulders, no throwing forward with the hands.
Initiating her downswing with the rotation in the left hip and left shoulder, she has created the room for the hands, arms and the clubhead to fall into a terrific hitting position whereupon she accelerate through the ball.
From this reverse angle you also appreciate the wonderful plane of Karen's swing coming back down. In fact, there is very little difference in her plane in either direction. It may have shallowed just a fraction thanks to that subtle rotation of the left hip from the top. What you don't want is a loopy type of action that sees the club fall drastically inside the line, as that involves excessive hand action to square the club for impact.
As you see here, at impact Karen is back where she started. And there you have it, a repeating swing that delivers solid shots every time.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine