Are you stand­ing over the ball too long?

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Bob Car­ney

It’s a sim­ple ques­tion, and it seems like an im­por­tant one: How long should it take to hit a golf shot? Rum­mage through most in­struc­tion books, and you’ll find a lot on the sub­ject of tim­ing, but lit­tle on time. That’s why a new book called Golf’s 8 Sec­ond Se­cret: What sep­a­rates golf’s great­est cham­pi­ons, by PGA pro Mike Ben­der and ac­com­plished am­a­teur Michael Mercier, has pro­voked de­bate.The au­thors ar­gue that a shot – from the time you set your lead foot, step over the ball and swing to the fin­ish – should take eight sec­onds. This pe­riod oc­curs only after a golfer has care­fully eval­u­ated con­di­tions, in­cor­po­rated swing thoughts and nar­rowed his or her fo­cus. In other words, there is no go­ing back. Ben­der and Mercier stud­ied dozens of the game’s greats through TV cov­er­age, film footage, even old pho­to­graphic se­quences, and that’s the con­sis­tent du­ra­tion it took them – from Bobby Jones to Phil Mick­el­son.

Oth­ers, such as Lee West­wood, tend to take longer or vary the time, es­pe­cially un­der pres­sure, and that in­vites prob­lems.The au­thors add that be­fore they even step in, a player’s pre-shot rou­tine should take no more than 10 to 12 sec­onds, for a to­tal of about 20.

Do you get it done that fast? Judg­ing from an in­for­mal study of am­a­teurs at a public course, most week­enders aren’t even close.They are check-lis­ters, re­view­ing the do’s and don’ts as they stand over the ball, some­times for as long as 20 sec­onds. Dou­ble that time when you add their pre-shot rou­tine.

Though Ben­der and Mercier be­lieve we all could use an eight-sec­ond shot clock, some of the game’s most prom­i­nent coaches aren’t as con­vinced.They do agree, how­ever, on three things: (1)You should swing with­out de­lay once over the ball;(2)That time ought to be con­sis­tent for ev­ery shot; (3) It’s per­sonal.

The coaches sup­ported the book’s or­gan­i­sa­tion of the shot process.They say siz­ing up a shot can take any amount of time.Tour pros, for in­stance, tend to spend more time de­cid­ing about es­cape shots or un­prac­tised shots around the green. But once the de­ci­sion is made, re­hearsal and ex­e­cu­tion should take no more than 20 sec­onds and must be con­sis­tent.The idea is to progress from con­scious cal­cu­la­tion to in­stinc­tive mo­tion as you de­cide, pic­ture, feel and fi­nally act. Mix­ing the stages, such as still de­bat­ing club se­lec­tion while stand­ing over the ball, in­vites poor per­for­mance.

“If you take too long over the ball, your feet get land­locked,” says in­struc­tor Dean Rein­muth.“Then your whole lower body feels stuck.The up­per body gets quicker. So your mo­tion looks too quick, but re­ally what hap­pened is, you took too long.”

Sport psy­chol­o­gist GioValiante agrees with the au­thors, to a point:“I’ve talked about 20 sec­onds from pre-shot to fin­ish. But it’s a range. Some play­ers are at 23, some at 17.You can’t make it a rigid thing. Ev­ery­body copies the best play­ers in the world. But the best play­ers don’t copy any­one.”

Only one of the 25 or so Hall of Famers Ben­der and Mercier stud­ied – Jack Nick­laus – var­ied from the eight-sec­ond rule. He did that, they say, be­cause he spent less time on his pre-shot rou­tine and no­tice­ably longer over the ball, but still to­talling 18 to 20 sec­onds.

“Al­most al­ways un­der pres­sure there is a ten­dency to take more time,” says sport psy­chol­o­gist Bob Rotella.“But the real prob­lem is when you start tak­ing too much time be­tween the last look at the tar­get and the swing. I try to get guys go­ing with their first in­stinct.That one is all about con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment. The sec­ond one can be filled with fear and doubt.”

Rotella of­ten asks clients to make a prac­tice swing, in­evitably fluid and re­laxed, and then sug­gests they build a rou­tine around that.

Josh Zan­der, a Golf Di­gest Teach­ing Pro­fes­sional who played in the 1992 US Open, cau­tions that no mat­ter the time taken, you must feel ready to hit. “Some­times I count to four as I ap­proach the ball.Then I see an im­age of the shot, and my brain tells me we’re ready to go. I’d be sur­prised if it weren’t eight sec­onds or less. But the key is to go when your brain gives you the sig­nal. Re­mem­ber Ser­gio Gar­cia, the way he gripped and re-gripped the club? The thing I ad­mired about that was that he wouldn’t go un­til he was ready.”

Ben­der and Mercier say that’s why great play­ers take only eight sec­onds. Any longer is bad for con­fi­dence and fo­cus. It’s pre­cisely why Gar­cia and West­wood haven’t won ma­jors, they say.

Sport psy­chol­o­gist Richard Coop stud­ied the 20-sec­ond zone a decade ago. His take: More im­por­tant than a con­sis­tent time is what hap­pens dur­ing that time.“A lot of golfers have rit­u­als but not rou­tines,” he says.“In other words, you’ve gone through the rit­ual of mo­tions, but not re­ally been there, done the rou­tine.”

Coop’s ad­vice on time:“Find what it is you’re do­ing over the ball that’s tak­ing so long – and still not work­ing – and elim­i­nate it.”


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