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:
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.
"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).