PUT YOUR SWING IN GOOD HANDS

Teach­ing leg­end Bob Toski of­fers tips for mak­ing golf eas­ier.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - by bob toski & gary battersby

New golfers who are in­tro­duced to mod­ern swing tech­nique of­ten get the im­pres­sion that the swing is a se­ries of un­nat­u­ral and stren­u­ous po­si­tions. Even es­tab­lished golfers ex­pe­ri­ence this strug­gle. No mat­ter their level, so many golfers be­come be­wil­dered and find that im­prove­ment takes too long. All too of­ten they walk away from the game.

On our team, Gary has spent count­less hours study­ing how the brain works in ath­letic move­ment. The brain doesn’t see and di­rect the body as sep­a­rate parts, but as a whole. Once there’s in­ten­tion to strike some­thing, like a golf ball, the brain cre­ates com­plete in­ter­nal mod­els of the ac­tion be­fore the player moves a mus­cle. The mo­ment the player vi­su­alises the shot, the brain has al­ready be­gun ready­ing the rest of the body to sup­port the ac­tion of the hands, which nat­u­rally lead the mo­tion.

Bob has been de­scribed as “old­fash­ioned” in his teach­ing. He has been crit­i­cised for not sub­scrib­ing to the mod­ern no­tion that the golfer should con­trol the swing – and the club – with the large mus­cle and joint groups: the shoul­ders, the back, the hips. But re­search on how the brain works doesn’t sup­port that crit­i­cism. The hands are the most evolved and sen­si­tive parts of the hu­man body, the parts that com­mu­ni­cate most ef­fec­tively with the brain. As such, they must be front and cen­tre in any ath­letic move­ment.

Much of mod­ern teach­ing also de­clares that the con­scious move­ment of the hands cre­ates an un­sta­ble ac­tion that’s dif­fi­cult to time and con­trol in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions. Be­cause of this claim, many teach­ers seek to elim­i­nate any con­scious move­ment of the hands. The com­mon con­tention is that the hands con­tain small mus­cles and joints and have too many vari­a­tions in move­ment for the golfer to rely on them in strik­ing the ball.

This think­ing is wrong, and again, brain re­search proves it. As the most ad­vanced part of the body, the hand is ca­pa­ble of de­tailed and re­fined mo­tor move­ments. So in­stead of tak­ing the hands out of the golf swing, we should train them to per­form cor­rectly. Con­cen­trat­ing on the role of the hands dur­ing the swing re­sults in a more in­tu­itive, ath­letic ac­tion and bet­ter shots un­der pres­sure. The golfer who does this is more in tune with the club through­out the swing, es­pe­cially at im­pact, and will per­form at a higher level with greater con­sis­tency. – roger schiff­man

the sci­ence be­hind de­vel­op­ing a hand-con­trolled swing

Our read­ing of neu­ro­science re­search in­di­cates that fine-grained hand aware­ness is the heart­beat of the swing. Hand ac­tion in golf is a skilled mo­tor move­ment sim­i­lar to cur­sive hand­writ­ing, play­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, and the ac­tion in any stick-and-ball sport. But when we speak of hand con­trol, we’re not ex­clud­ing the move­ment of the rest of the body. In our work with golfers, the brain shows an ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity to or­gan­ise the move­ment in those large mus­cle and joint groups im­plic­itly. The brain con­ducts a sym­phony of mo­tion through the hands.

A deeper dive re­veals two prop­er­ties of the brain and ner­vous sys­tem that the body re­lies on to de­velop and con­trol move­ment: plas­tic­ity and pro­pri­o­cep­tion. Plas­tic­ity is the con­cept that your brain is not hard­wired – it’s plas­tic. Your brain can change it­self. The cliché “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is sim­ply not true. Your brain does not need to be a slave to your ge­net­ics, ei­ther. This is good news for es­tab­lished golfers who want to im­prove their swings.

Pro­pri­o­cep­tion is a prop­erty of the ner­vous sys­tem that gives the brain feed­back from the mus­cles and joints that de­scribes the body’s rel­a­tive po­si­tion in space. A per­son can­not im­prove move­ment with­out pro­pri­o­cep­tion. If we didn’t have pro­pri­o­cep­tion, we’d have to watch our feet when we walk to avoid fall­ing.

Be­cause most of the swing takes place out of the golfer’s sight, he or she needs to de­velop a high de­gree of pro­pri­o­cep­tion to swing the club in a con­sis­tent man­ner. he hands have the high­est vol­ume of mo­tor rep­re­sen­ta­tion and pro­pri­o­cep­tive feed­back to the brain, and be­cause they’re the golfer’s only con­nec­tion to the club, they pro­vide the best op­por­tu­nity to feel its move­ment. Max­imis­ing feel and brain-to-body co­or­di­na­tion in­creases the golfer’s con­trol over the swing and the shots it pro­duces.

how to speed up your learn­ing

Your en­vi­ron­ment and what you do in it plays a ma­jor role in how your life un­folds. The same goes for your golf game. That’s be­cause ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence or new move­ment is recorded in your brain, and strong pat­terns are formed through rep­e­ti­tion. If you change the way you han­dle and con­trol the golf club, and if you prac­tice through ac­cu­rate in­ten­tion and rep­e­ti­tion, you will im­prove.

A suc­cess­ful golf les­son is re­ally just a wake-up call to feel your swing ac­cu­rately. To im­prove your feel through pro­pri­o­cep­tion and change what your brain re­lies on to hit the ball, try clos­ing your eyes dur­ing the swing and be­gin to recog­nise how your hands feel on the club and how they’re di­rect­ing the ac­tion. You’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised by how well you do. You’ll be feel­ing at a higher level. Your hands – your most sen­si­tive tools – will be com­mu­ni­cat­ing with your brain as only they can.

This plas­tic­ity of the brain is en­cour­ag­ing for golfers tak­ing up the game – at any age. And it’s ex­actly why we never draw con­clu­sions pre­ma­turely about a stu­dent’s po­ten­tial. Older stu­dents in­tro­duced to our pro­gramme for the first time of­ten start play­ing bet­ter than they have in 20 or 30 years. They are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing plas­tic­ity at work, with im­proved pro­pri­o­cep­tion. But here’s the catch: You must learn in a man­ner that al­lows your aware­ness to sur­face on a con­sis­tent ba­sis. If your hands are ac­ti­vated and in tune, you will per­form well, and you will be­come more con­fi­dent in what you can do.

One more ma­jor con­cept here. Rhythm, the syn­chro­nised pulse of move­ment, is a crit­i­cal part of mo­tion, es­pe­cially in the golf swing. In mod­ern swing tech­nique, rhythm has been glossed over and re­placed by a fo­cus on body and club po­si­tions. The golfer who learns to time the re­lease of en­ergy in the swing through proper hand ac­tion will en­joy con­trol and power for a life­time.

put­ting your hands to work

We be­lieve in sim­plic­ity. We have a say­ing that de­scribes our method in one sen­tence: “If the club is okay, your swing is okay!” If your hands move and func­tion prop­erly, your swing will be ef­fec­tive be­cause the club­face mir­rors the hands. This is a sim­ple con­cept that’s true for any prob­lem that might arise in the swing.

When most golfers prac­tice these days, they have no plan for how they’re try­ing to im­prove. For ex­am­ple, con­trol in a golf swing does not be­gin by mak­ing full-mo­tion, full-speed driver swings, as we see so many golfers do­ing on the prac­tice tee. At high speeds, the brain per­forms only what it al­ready

feel the force; don’t force the feel. fo­cus on the mo­men­tum of the swing­ing club.

knows, so no change or im­prove­ment is tak­ing place. This type of care­less prac­tice sim­ply in­grains the prob­lems you’re hav­ing.

Re­mem­ber this phrase: An ounce of touch is worth a ton of brawn. De­vel­op­ing con­trol over the club should start with the sim­ple swings on and around the greens. You must crawl be­fore you walk and then pos­si­bly run. Be­gin­ning with small swings will help you feel the mo­men­tum of the club. Learn to as­so­ciate the swing with an ease of move­ment and flex­i­bil­ity, a sim­ple flow back and through. Start with a bal­anced grip, the club in your fin­gers and your grip pres­sure light. As an over­all thought, con­trol the mo­tion with the lead hand; the brain will di­rect the trail­ing hand to sup­port the lead hand im­plic­itly.

On these shorter swings, no­tice also the ro­ta­tion of the club­face as it swings back and through, and how the mo­men­tum of the club hinges and un­hinges the wrists. You’re learn­ing rhythm and an aware­ness of the hands and club­face dur­ing the swing. Mod­ern teach­ing prefers a stiff-wristed short game, but that only makes it harder to de­velop proper hand ac­tion. Feel the force; don’t force the feel. Fo­cus on the mo­men­tum of the swing­ing club, es­pe­cially on these early swings. When you go back to hit­ting driver, your hands will bring along this ed­u­ca­tion.

break­ing the big-mus­cle myth

It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why the game has been driven away from feel and sen­sory-based learn­ing. In tour­na­ment golf 40 years ago, you rarely saw a player in con­tention hit a tee shot 50 me­tres off line. That hap­pens al­most ev­ery week on tour to­day. Psy­chol­ogy aside, this lack of con­trol un­der pres­sure is di­rectly re­lated to the fact that these great golfers have ceded con­trol of their swings to a po­si­tional, large-mus­cle sys­tem.

If you lis­ten to TV com­men­ta­tors, you’ll hear that they, too, have been se­duced by the mod­ern method. For ex­am­ple, they talk about al­ways mak­ing a full swing, avoid­ing the par­tial shot. In the eyes of the mod­ern player and teacher, that’s safe. To­day’s pros of­ten lay up fur­ther from the green to hit a full wedge rather than a half- or three-quar­ter shot. They’ve been brain­washed into be­liev­ing any­thing less than full re­quires a dan­ger­ous re­liance on the hands. The top play­ers of the past could feather an 8-iron or smash a 9 or squeeze a 6 low into the wind. The punch shot that so many of them played with great suc­cess is a dinosaur to­day.

If you want to im­prove your golf game, learn to be cre­ative and in­tu­itive. Avoid swing tech­nique that has de­volved into a ro­botic en­deav­our. Good golf is about re­ly­ing on a de­vel­oped touch in the hands for im­pact. Then the an­gle, loft, spin and en­ergy for the ball flight can be felt through the club and into the hands. You’ll im­prove faster and en­joy the game at lev­els you never thought pos­si­ble.

an ounce of touch is worth a ton of brawn. de­velop your con­trol on short shots.

PHO­TOS BY DOM FURORE

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