The Loop

Weekend Tip: For faster progress, make swings without a ball

February 17, 2012

I just heard an interview on PGA Tour radio (John Maginnes on Tap) with former PGA Tour player Phil Blackmar and his Hall of Fame teacher Jim Flick. You can hear the entire 22-minute interview by clicking on the link here. They talk about a wide range of subjects, including Flick's overall teaching philosophy. But something that struck me was Blackmar's answer to a question about what you can do in the off-season to keep or get your swing in shape. He said you should make swings without a ball, because it's easier to work on your positions and your fundamentals, and swing changes will come faster. Why is that?

Almost 20 years ago, I helped the noted teaching professional Hank Johnson, for years the No. 1 teacher in Alabama, write a book called How to Win the Three Games of Golf. In that book Hank broke golf down into three separate games: the Golf Swing, the Golf Shot and the Golf Score. He contended that the Golf Swing should be learned or changed away from the range and course. The Golf Shot should be rehearsed on the range. And the Golf Score is something you think about only on the course.

"When you are trying to concentrate on learning the various positions of your body and club at address and throughout the swinging motion, the ball only serves as a distraction," Hank wrote. "It automatically shifts your focus to performance rather than learning. It is difficult to concentrate on making a mechanically correct swing and hit the ball at the same time. When you are making a practice swing, you are learning. When you are hitting a golf shot, you are performing."

So this weekend, when you are away from the course and the range, work on the following fundamentals. Remember, do this without hitting balls.

-- Correct grip (hold the club in your fingers, your V's pointing at your right cheek or shoulder)

-- Precise ball position (practice setting up to a ball but don't hit it)

-- Athletic posture at address (check in a mirror or window that you have a fairly straight back, slight bend at the hips, slight flex in the knees, arms hanging straight down)

-- Smooth takeaway (also in a mirror or window, check your club's halfway-back position and that you stayed in your posture)

-- Good weight transfer into your right leg at the top

-- Transition into the ball by starting your downswing from the ground up (left foot, knee, thigh, hip, in that order)

-- Unrestricted follow-through made with relaxed grip pressure

-- Full finish held for two to three seconds so you know you are in balance

Do this for five to 10 minutes every day, and when you get back on the range or the course, you'll be amazed how quickly you'll regain your feel for the club and hitting solid shots.

*Roger Schiffman

Managing Editor

Golf Digest

Twitter @RogerSchiffman*