Techniques to help you swing and hit like a pro
As Joe Holdridge steps up to the tee, he sets his stance and evens his balance. Birds are chirping in the background. His focus steadies on the golf ball as he draws the club back behind his head and unleashes the torque built up in his backswing.
A resounding thwack erupts as proof of a smooth swing and a squarely hit ball.
The ball flies through the air and rolls to a final resting place 201.9 yards away, according to the driving range simulator. In reality, the ball traveled a mere 10 feet before hitting a projector screen.
The bird sounds coming from the speaker next to the computer monitor continue as Holdridge steps up to the screen to analyze the statistics of his shot. The sophisticated equipment here at Joe’s Professional Golf Lab & Indoor Golf Center can measure everything from the launch angle to ball speed.
“I practice in here quite a bit,” said Holdridge, who opened the golf lab in August 2006. “Since I started this business, my game has gotten better, more consistent.”
Perfecting his golf swing has taken years of work, Holdridge said. After graduating from college, Holdridge became involved with the PGA training program at the Pebble Beach Company in California, which took him through rigorous training to learn the different aspects of the golf swing and how to be an effective golf instructor.
With more than 15 years of experience as a PGA Golf Professional, Holdridge knows a thing or two about the golf swing. For one, it’s not as simple as it looks.
“There are only about four or five things that are absolutely written in stone about the golf swing — the rest are variables,” he said. “There are a lot of principles, but not a lot of laws.”
Laws of the golf swing
Swinging a golf club can be quite easy — it’s making contact with the ball and getting the desired result that’s the hard part. When most people first start playing golf, they tend to have a slice, meaning the ball veers to the right instead of going straight, Holdridge said.
“The perception in a person’s mind of how to hit a golf ball logically produces a slice,” he said. “They try to swing the club in a manner that is similar to a ferris wheel, which is upright.”
The problem with swinging like a ferris wheel is that the golfer is not standing directly over the ball, but off to the side of the tee. Thus, the swinging action is not vertical, but rather on an angled plane that wraps around the golfer’s body.
“Once we get people to understand that the swing plane is a tilted ferris wheel versus an upright one, they do better because they swing around their body versus swinging vertically,” Holdridge said. “When I want to slice the ball on purpose I do an upright ferris wheel and that produces a slice.”
If you’re slicing your shots or just looking to improve your golf swing, Holdridge offered these five fundamentals:
1) Make sure your grip is correct for your swing.
One of the first things that Holdridge looks at with his students is their grip. This is the golfer’s only connection to the club and an incorrect grip will affect the entire swing.
“If you don’t get the grip right, everything is off,” Holdridge said. “It’s the main component to hitting the ball well.”
One style of grip isn’t right for all golfers, though. Holdridge recommends seeing a professional golfing instructor to determine your specific grip.
2) Hit the ball, not the ground.
Though it seems obvious, Holdridge said this is something that people often forget. Around the Pacific Northwest, where the ground is often wet, ripping up a chunk of sod with your shot will reduce your range and your accuracy.
“In order to make contact with the ball, you have to be in a certain position to hit it correctly,” Holdridge said.
This involves not standing too upright or bending over too far, aligning your body to the target, and keeping your head down with your eye on the ball. If you bend over too far, you’re likely to dig a divot. If you lift your head, you’re likely to hit the top of the ball or miss completely.
3) Shift your weight to the forward foot on impact.
This ensures that you are not leaning back and “scooping” the ball. Many people have the idea that in order for the ball to go up into the air, they have to scoop it or help it up, Holdridge said.
“The truth of the matter is spin is what makes the ball go up into the air, not a scooping action,” he said. “So when you hit the ball, friction is created between the face of the club and the ball and the ball starts spinning backwards. The more it spins the higher it will go and the less it spins the lower it goes. So it’s kind of like an airplane taking off: when you have the speed right it’s able to go.”
4) Keep your hands ahead of the ball on impact.
Combined with shifting your weight to the forward foot, this will keep you from scooping the ball and will create the necessary backspin to give the ball loft.
5) Develop a pre-shot routine.
This helps improve your mental game and gets you focused on the shot at hand. Such routines are common in every sport that requires consistency.
“It’s like pitchers in baseball — they do the exact same thing before they pitch,” Holdridge said. “And guys at the free throw line (in basketball) bounce the ball a couple times, spin it and then shoot.”
Don’t forget to swing
After breaking down all the components and variables that affect your golf swing, don’t forget to put all the pieces back together. Some golfers have a tendency to overanalyze each part, Holdridge said, and pretty soon they are caught up in the mechanics of the swing and have lost sight of the ultimate idea: to hit the ball in a fluid motion.
“Rhythm, tempo and timing is all a part of the process too,” Holdridge said, adding that these are often the hardest parts of the golf swing to teach because they relate to the golfer’s athletic skill.
How do you learn rhythm and tempo? It all comes down to practice, Holdridge said, and practicing the proper technique. Once you feel comfortable with the basics, you will feel more confident the next time you tee up.
Confidence is one of the many things Holdridge said many clients walk away with after practicing at his indoor facility. The simulated driving range allows people to focus on their swing without all the pressure of the game or the terrain.
“You get this feeling of security — you’re not going to lose a ball and you’re not going to get a penalty,” he said. “So you swing freely; there’s no hindrance.”
And when it comes down playing the links, confidence in your swing will lead to a more enjoyable round of golf, regardless of your score.
Follow these five tips for a smoother game
It may sound poetic to say that golf is a game between you and the ball, but in truth, there is always something that gets in the way: your club.
No matter how much you practice your golf swing, your game will still suffer if you’re not swinging the right clubs. And in the world of golf clubs, the shaft is considered the most important component.
“A lot of people call it the engine of the golf club,” said Chris Hilleary, owner of Aerotech Golf Shafts, which is headquartered in Bellingham just down the road from Joe’s Professional Golf Lab.
Aerotech makes a unique composite golf shaft with a graphite core wrapped by steel fiber. This gives the club the performance of steel and the flexibility and dampening characteristics of a composite.
The main characteristic of a golf shaft that affects the swing is its stiffness, Hilleary said. In general, a stronger player that swings harder and faster will want a stiffer club than someone who swings a little slower. Through an innovative manufacturing process, Aerotech can produce clubs of varying weights, lengths and flexes, which are then fit to an individual’s swing and preference.
The performance of steel fiber and the custom fit of Aerotech shafts is leading the industry to embrace this new composite, Hilleary said.
“It’s working, slowly, one player at a time,” he said, adding that the company has grown 300 percent in the last two years. “What has happened is that over the years we’ve seen an increase in sales of our heavier-weight stuff, which is telling us that now the stronger players are starting to embrace the technology. It’s really changing the attitude in the industry that stronger players need to play steel, because that’s simply not true anymore.”