The Local Knowlege

Instruction

7 quick and easy things you can learn from Jim Hardy

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Orlando, Fla. -- Thanks to my saint of a former college golf coach, Golf Digest Best In State Teacher Shane LeBaron, my ailing, winter-tormented game got some face time with Jim Hardy and his right-hand man, Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Chris O'Connell, on Monday.

Jim Hardy is one of the best instructors in the country -- ranking seventh on our Best Teachers In America rankings -- and his theories on the swing have helped improve the careers of numerous PGA Tour players, Vijay Singh and Matt Kuchar among them.

Don't go adding Luke Kerr-Dineen to that list (yet), but I was happy with my tune-up. My main problem has to do with my arms, which tend to drift right of the target through impact and lead to a lot of pushes. Rest assured, I'm now meditating on a mantra of releasing my arms left through the ball.

But anyway, that's all pretty nuanced, especially considering that some of the most valuable things I took from the lesson were also the most universal and foolproof. Here they are:

Related: More from Jim Hardy

Action, reaction

Swing problems don't exist in isolation; a flawed action almost always leads to a flawed reaction. A weak grip, for example, will encourage golfers to come over the top in an effort to square the face. Yes, coming over the top is usually a problem. But is it the root problem? No, that's the grip. Identifying and fixing the actions first, rather than the reactions, will save you a lot of energy. 

"Think of it like an airplane," Hardy says. "If it's coming down too steep the pilot has to pull the controls much more back than he usually would."

Trust your divot and ball flight

In an age full of video cameras and instantaneous data, it's easy to overlook some of the old, reliable metrics. Take the time to analyze your divots -- where they are pointing, for example, or how deep they are -- and your ball flight. That stuff can tell you practically everything you need to know, all you have to do is ask it. 

Incremental swing change

You probably don't swing like a tour pro today, and you shouldn't try to swing like one tomorrow, Hardy says. If you work on the right things, you'll hit it better right now and leave room to improve again in the future. Don't overhaul everything all at once.

"It's not a short-term, long-term thing," Hardy says. "It's about getting you better right now. That's how you'll enjoy the game."

Don't be afraid to make unorthodox practice swings

Practicing getting into the positions you want isn't bad, but sometimes, it's just not enough. Because everything moves a lot faster when you're swinging for real, sometimes the only way to actually get into the position you want is to feel like you're overcooking it. Give it a try. Tiger does it, after all.

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Plusses and minuses

"The golf swing is like the scales of justice," Hardy says. "You don't want them swinging too far one way or another."

According to Hardy: the swing is just a series of hook moves and slice moves. It's not about eliminating every one of those moves -- on the contrary -- it's about balancing them all so they cancel each other out.


Not warming up before a lesson isn't a bad thing

It might sound counterintuitive, but being warm sometimes helps your body hide all those compensations in your swing. Going in cold lays all those flaws out raw, which can make them easier both to identify and to correct.

Some of the best training aids are right in front of your eyes

A towel, a water bottle, an umbrella; the only thing training aids are good for is to help get you in the position you want. Sometimes, that requires some highfalutin gizmo. But more often than not, Hardy says, the aid you need may be staring you in the face (or is getting dusty in the trunk of your car).


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Instruction

Weekend Tip: Only 5 minutes till tee time!

In the latest issue of Golf Digest (September, with Alvaro Quiros on the cover), Hank Haney offers some quick advice for players who don't leave themselves much time to warm up (sound familiar?). Here's what you should do if you have only five or 10 minutes before you have to tee off.

"You can still be productive," says Haney, a Golf Digest Teaching Professional. "Start by engaging your golf muscles and stretching. Hold a couple of irons together and swing, letting the extra weight help you turn. Then hit a few balls with a wedge, a few with your 7-iron and finish with your driver. You're looking for smooth swings and solid contact, not mechanical fixes.

"Your last stop should be the practice green. Take two balls and roll some 15- to 20-footers, focusing mainly on speed. When you get to the tee, remember to slow yourself down. A quick tempo on the first tee can produce a wild drive--and set a bad tone for the day."

Hank, of course, teaches Mark O'Meara and was Tiger Woods' coach for seven years. He runs the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy, in Hilton Head.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter @RogerSchiffman

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Instruction

Mid-week Lesson: How to practice productively

Years ago, I was fortunate to help one of the game's best teachers write an instruction book. The book never got a lot of recognition, but those who read it have told me it really helped their games. It's called How to Win the Three Games of Golf and was the brainchild of Golf Digest Teaching Professional Hank Johnson, who for many years was the No. 1 Teacher in Alabama. Hank was also a noted player, who had a stellar run at Auburn University and qualified for the 1969 U.S. Open at Champions Golf Club, won by Orville Moody.

Hank came up with the brilliant idea of breaking the game down into three distinct parts: The Golf Swing, the Golf Shot and the Golf Score. If you keep these separate when you work on your game, I promise you'll practice better, play better and score better.

Hank based his ideas on tested motor-learning and educational research. He found that when you're working on your swing, it's best to do it by not hitting golf balls. You'll make much faster progress and the changes will stick if you work on your mechanics and positions away from the range (certainly away from the course) and even without a golf club. Swing a broom or other similar object in front of a mirror, and repeat the correct positions you want to get into. If you try to hit balls and work on your mechanics at the same time, everything often suffers and you often regress and lose confidence.

When you get on the range and start hitting balls, forget about the mechanics you rehearsed without balls. On the range you should be concentrating on hitting golf shots. Pick out specific targets and hit shots to them. Visualize the ball flight and trajectory. If you start thinking of your mechanics, get away from your pile of balls, work out your mechanical thoughts with practice swings, then return to hitting shots thinking non-mechanically.

When you're on the course, all you're doing is putting the shots you practiced on the range into play. Here you should only be concerned with the conditions, your strategy, club selection, and where you want the ball to go. You're simply trying to make a golf score. If you need to think of something in your swing, make sure it's a non-mechanical thought, like visualizing the target, swinging in a smooth tempo or holding your finish.

This approach might be difficult to do at first, and it definitely takes time to start trusting it and staying with it. But if you do, you'll start to play some of the best golf of your life. And you'll also notice that you're not so mentally tired at the end of your rounds. Because you're finally playing golf--really playing golf. Not stressing over your mechanics shot after shot.

Good luck with your game this week, and look for Fitness Friday in two days.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter @RogerSchiffman

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Instruction

Monday Shot Analysis: What you can learn from Stricker's near-perfect part-wedge

Editor's note: Every Monday, PGA professional Kevin Hinton examines a key shot from one of the weekend's tour events and tells you what you can learn. A Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Kevin is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Golf Club, Locust Valley, N.Y., and is a Lead Master Instructor for the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort & Spa. He also teaches at Drive 495 in New York. This week, Kevin examines Steve Stricker's marvelous wedge to kick-in distance on the ninth hole at Kapalua, which helped turn the momentum and propel the nine-time tour winner to the victory circle in the year's first tournament.

Roger Schiffman
Managing Editor
Golf Digest
Twitter @RogerSchiffman


Kevin Hinton: Stricker's up-and-down on the par-5 ninth for his second consecutive birdie was a pivotal moment of the final round. Steve pitched his third shot to gimme range, and regained his three shot lead over Jonathan Byrd. He then cruised to a final-round 69 and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions victory. Let's take a closer look at Steve's pitching action and see what you can learn. Watch video.

Stricker is an expert at the fundamentals of consistent pitching. The less-than-full wedge shot is one of the most difficult in the game because you are not making a complete swing. Solid contact is not easy for the average golfer. Let's see how Stricker does it:

At address, he has narrowed his stance, played the ball slightly back of middle, and set more weight on  his front foot . . . approximately 60 percent or so. In the backswing, he keeps his lower body relatively quiet as he swings his arms back and allows his wrists to hinge. This is a very important note. While the most significant difference between pitching and chipping is that in pitching we allow our wrists to hinge, I think the key to Steve's pitching--his consistently good contact and distance control--is that he doesn't overdo it.
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Instruction

How to practice like a pro

When you go to a tour event on a Monday or Tuesday, like at this week's Cadillac Championship at Doral, you see what real practice is all about. We're not talking about a quick warmup before a round. We're talking about truly working on your game, as if it's the most important thing in the world. In a day, the average tour pro spends about three to four hours concentrating on the full swing and an equal amount of time on the short-game.

But tour pros are not just beating balls or blindly rolling putts. They make their practice productive by using props--shafts, yardsticks and other devices--to check their alignment, their ball position, their swing plane, their putting path. Sometimes it's with their teacher, most often with their caddie, so they have another set of eyes to check them. This is work. It's what they do for a living. And if done correctly, it pays dividends.

Want to practice like a pro? Here's what you do:


vijay300.jpgMake yourself a practice station on the range. Always put shafts or other clubs on the ground to check that your stance line is square to your target line. Jim Flick, who coaches Tom Lehman and Jack Nicklaus, likes to have players put the alignment shaft along their heels, not their toes, because if you like to flare out one foot, it will not alter your alignment. Then place another shaft perpendicular to your target line to indicate your ball position. Finally, put a shaft in the ground to the side of your body on the same angle as your clubshaft at address. This will help you determine if your swing is on plane. Note the photograph of Vijay Singh (above), who always practices with such a "plane check."

Now if you really want to practice like a pro, always place the ball you're about to hit directly behind the divot you just made (note the Singh photo again). Try to eliminate the smallest amount of turf from the range so the superintendent has the least amount of area to reseed. Also notice that tour pros take shallow divots. Only

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