Swing changes are difficult even for the most gifted athletes, and often the problems that exist don't require blowing up your swing and starting over, but rather fine-tuning. Before you start tinkering with your swing -- which usually makes you worse before you get better -- check your BTT: Balance, Tempo and Tension Awareness. These are three of the eight essential playing skills we teach, also including clear decision-making and emotional resilience.
Let's start with balance. Simply put, the physical foundation of your golf swing is balance. Think of your swing like a toy top set in motion by the pulling of a string. The top is most graceful in its movements when it's totally centered, in complete balance. As it slows down, that balance is lost, and it starts to wobble. That process is like making the golf swing over and over.
Now consider the feeling you get when you hit a perfect shot. Whether the shot is produced by the long, fluid swing of Sam Snead or by the eye-blink quick one of Ben Hogan, balance is maintained throughout. For many of the players we work with, one of the most important aspects of their warm-up routine is nurturing balance. Smart players realize they're not going to change anything in the warm-up, but they can find something: balance.
1. BALANCE: To be a good ball-striker, you must be able to maintain your balance while rotating. Make some swings favoring either your left foot or right foot, as Pia shows here, to develop dynamic balance.
Our next skill is tempo.
This is not something that can be explained to you, but you can learn to control it. Every player has a tempo that works best, but it's really more like a unique range of rhythms in which the player functions optimally. Tempo is something you borrow rather than own. It constantly changes depending on how your body and swing feel on any particular day.
Many golfers find their most efficient sequence of motion by exploring different tempos. We've found that players who are restricted in their hips or shoulders start to strike the ball better if they downshift to 75 percent or 80 percent of full tempo. You'll learn through experimentation.
2. TEMPO: Make full swings varying the tempo of your backswing and forward swing, as Lynn demonstrates. Go back at 25 percent and forward at 75. Then hit shots using your preferred tempo throughout.
Nothing puts balance and tempo out of whack quicker than tension. This is the demon that comes between you and your golf swing. Two keys are to first understand where in your swing tension is likely to reside, and then to develop the skills to manage it. Common places for tension to show up are in the hands, arms, shoulders and especially in the jaw.
For some golfers, beating tension is as simple as taking a few deep belly breaths. Fuzzy Zoeller used to whistle while he walked. Lee Trevino would talk to whomever would listen. With all the waiting in golf, tension can build. You have to fill that time with activities that release it. Some of our players stretch, jump in place or send their minds on vacations to happy places.
3. TENSION AWARENESS: Hit short shots alternating between tight tension in your arms and shoulders, average tension and very loose. Do this three times. Which tension level produces the best contact?
Whatever steps you take to improve your game, work on your BTT. You'll see positive changes without a giving thought to swing mechanics.
From the new book Play Your Best Golf Now by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott with Ron Sirak, reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. 224 pages. $25.