Raising The Floor

I was listening to “Get a Grip” today, Max Homa and Shane Bacon’s podcast, and Homa had an excellent phrase for my top golf goal: Raising the floor. The ceiling of my golf game, at the moment, is pretty decent. On a good day (month?) I drive it nicely, hit smooth irons, and have lots of par and birdie tries in a round. But when things go wrong for my game, they go really wrong.

Take the last three weeks or so. After playing great golf in Florida, I returned to DC and could not hit the ball. I took big divots and hit a variety of thin, fat, and topped wedges. Even my chips and pitches were attrocious. My drives went in all directions, and about 30 yards shorter than I was hitting them a week earlier. I’d like to one day be a scratch golfer, but my over-riding golf ambition is to just be less bad when I’m playing my worst. I want my floor to still make for an enjoyable round.

The process of fixing my swing has been rough. First, I tried a couple of range sessions on my own, experimenting and taking swing videos. This wasn’t fruitful. Next, I took a lesson with a local teacher. He had me working on a variety of things. He had me step on a grip with my left foot to focus on keeping it planted, put a yardage stick in the back of my grip to work on takeaway, and gave me a variety of drills. He also made a suggestion about my grip. I’m sure that the advice he was giving me was valid, but the number of changes was a bit overwhelming. I tried for two or three range sessions to turn his suggestions into reasonably decent irons and I just couldn’t get it to work.

Finally, I booked another lesson, this time with a teacher back home in Connecticut that I’ve worked with a lot, and whose lessons I find usually click with me pretty well (I was in Connecticut for the 4th of July).

This pro had me widen my stance for stability (which the other pro did suggest, though this pro made it a focus), and had me focus on making a full turn in the backswing (to elbow under the chin), but at 3/4 speed, and making sure that at impact, the hands were ahead of the ball (e.g. maintaining lag). He also put a ball about a foot in front of the one I was hitting as a visual aid for the path of the club, and explained to me the action I should look for from my arms after impact (the forearms rotating to the left, not the hands flipping).

This lesson made sense to me and I hit some better shots after it, though I wasn’t sure how much of my improved contact was attributable to hitting off of mats (versus the grass I’d been tearing up down in DC). After the lesson, I practiced for another half hour or so, leaving just in time to beat a summer thunderstorm.

The next day, the 4th of July, I played 18 holes at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton, Connecticut. My game was incredibly mediocre, though I did manage to hit a few decent shots (including one great drive) and par the par-5 10th (one of the easier holes on the course, but a par nonetheless).

On Sunday the 5th, I played the back nine at Rolling Hills and had similar struggles. My dad smartly suggested that, rather than play the front, we just practice on the first few holes. Hot, sore, and frustrated, I took him up on the offer. I played a variety of shots on holes 1-3, hitting some nice 60-degree wedges, a great 7-iron, and a good 6-iron. All the while, my dad video-d and shared his thoughts on the swing.

I’m usually not the most receptive person to feedback on the course, but with video evidence and no actual score to worry about, I listened, and he had some good ideas. He suggested trying a pause in my backswing (Matsuyama-style) to work on getting in the right position for the downwing, and to prevent the volatility of my backswing from knocking me off balance (The pro in DC also diagnosed this issue). I immediately hit some good irons. It worked on chips as well, and I called it a day after pitching in from 30 yards or so on the par-3 3rd.

Yesterday I drove back to DC, and today, after work, I drove to the course, eager to see if the strategy would work reliably on the range. This mission didn’t go quite as planned. First, my Flighscope Mevo was dead (I’d forgotten to charge it), so any feedback on my swing would have to be visual. Second, there were thunderstorms fast approaching.

Still, the session was fruitful. I grabbed five balls and my 60-degree wedge and practiced, taking a few videos along the way, for 30 minutes on the short-game area before the lightning alarm went off. Iterating on what I learned on Sunday, I took the club back to a fixed point, held the club where it was, and just turned my hips to make contact (no conscious downswing). This strategy worked very well, and allowed me to be very precise about the top of my swing and the loft/position of the clubface at the start of the downswing. I made good contact and had excellent touch from 20-40 yards. It’s definitely the best I’ve hit the ball since last month’s trip to Florida.

It’s still early, but I’m hopeful that this swing thought will be what it takes to get my irons back in good shape and raise my floor. Keep swinging.

Pro Golf P.S. Bryson Dechambeau is a beast, and I don’t know what to think.

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