‘Align­ment and ball po­si­tion are so im­por­tant in lev­er­ag­ing ac­cu­racy’

Sean Fo­ley fine-tunes tech­nique through tech­nol­ogy... and wants you and your coach to do the same

Today's Golfer (UK) - - SEAN FOLEY -

Sean Fo­ley is re­luc­tant to give too much away about his work with Justin Rose. Not out of spite, we might add, but be­cause he’s got a nine-year re­la­tion­ship and busi­ness to pro­tect. His pas­sion for tech­nol­ogy means ev­ery­thing he does is rooted in an­a­lyt­ics, and in­fin­itely more de­tailed than your av­er­age coach. When we meet him, he’s car­ry­ing a Track­man and about to pour through a bunch of data from his les­son with Danny Wil­lett. “Us­ing data helps you to un­der­stand the why,” he says. Be­fore Track­man was even pop­u­lar, Fo­ley would visit their web­site and read case stud­ies, so he could un­der­stand ex­actly what hap­pens at im­pact be­tween the club and ball. While he ad­mits it’s an ex­treme ex­am­ple, he be­lieves all golfers would see im­prove­ments if they paid at­ten­tion to ball flight data and stopped re­ly­ing on guess­work in their set up and swing. That in­cludes the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals, which is where Fo­ley wants your ed­u­ca­tion to start…

When I’m coach­ing Justin Rose or Danny Wil­lett, a lot of our fo­cus is on align­ment and ball po­si­tion. That stuff is so im­por­tant be­cause the ball is just sit­ting still. You can stand to it in a way that gives you a me­chan­i­cal ad­van­tage to lever­age power and ac­cu­racy. In golf, so many peo­ple aim right, get the ball po­si­tion too far for­ward and then try to get the ball back to the tar­get. One thing we are al­ways fo­cused on is mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing is neu­tral. It’s not very sexy stuff, but it helps with con­sis­tency and com­pe­tency.

What­ever the club, the ball po­si­tion with an iron should be in the mid­dle of the stance, just be­hind your left pec, with the hands slightly for­ward. That pre­sets a down­ward strike at im­pact, with the low point of the swing com­ing in front of the ball po­si­tion. When I watch am­a­teurs pre­par­ing to hit an iron, some set up like they’re go­ing to hit a driver. They look ready to scoop it, not com­press it. Keep­ing a lit­tle bit more pres­sure in the lower body and on the left side will help to pro­duce a bet­ter strike.

If you look at re­ally long hit­ters, they make a big move­ment to their right side and stay over there. You don’t want to do that with a 9-iron. The way you come into the ball and at­tack the ball with an iron is slightly dif­fer­ent. Where most golfers go wrong is that they sway too much and move off the ball in the back­swing. They then have to stand up through the shot to achieve a full body turn, which af­fects their sight line and hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion, and throws the swing out of se­quence. When you set up to the ball, try to pic­ture a pole run­ning straight down your head, down your spine and into the ground. Stay­ing grounded, ro­tate around that pole (cen­tral axis) in your back­swing, and let your pelvis turn away from the tar­get to com­plete a full back­swing. As you swing down, fo­cus on mov­ing that pole – the cen­tre of your ster­num – for­wards and to­wards the tar­get in the down­swing. That will en­sure you com­press the ball and strike down on it, just like the pros do.

It would re­ally help most club golfers if they made a bunch of swings from a down­hill lie. That will keep you more cen­tred. It will also shal­low out the at­tack an­gle, which makes the shot a lot more dif­fi­cult. I think most peo­ple mas­sage their ego by try­ing to do stuff they’re re­ally good at al­ready. To get past that thresh­old and learn, you need to make it more dif­fi­cult. If you’re hav­ing a hard time with your wedge play, don’t just hit shots from a per­fect lie. Hit from the dirt. That way you’ll fig­ure out, within the set up, what’s im­per­a­tive be­fore you even start the mo­tion.

Most peo­ple strug­gle to hit a long iron be­cause the club has less loft, is mov­ing at a higher speed and is fur­ther away from the body. Even on the PGA Tour, I would guess that only half the play­ers still have a 3-iron. The rest have rescue clubs be­cause try­ing to get a 3-iron to land on the right trajectory and land soft isn’t easy. Most peo­ple strug­gle, sim­ply be­cause it’s a lot harder to hit. That’s why I would rec­om­mend am­a­teurs swap their long irons for hy­brids. Spin is your friend and the more the ball spins, the softer the land­ing. Plus, the gear ef­fect helps as well. So, if you toe a hy­brid, it will draw back and if you

heel it, it will fade back. It’s a big ad­van­tage. If you want to max­imise your game, un­der­stand­ing data is im­por­tant. Launch rate, spin rate, club­face po­si­tion, path and at­tack an­gle are the num­bers you should be look­ing at in a fit­ting or if you’re hit­ting on Track­man. Spin axis is the one peo­ple for­get about as well, and shows how much the ball is tilted right or left. A ball with a two-de­gree spin axis to the right is just a lit­tle fade, whereas a ball with a 30-de­gree spin axis to the right is a big slice. So, that tells you a lot about your shot shape. Justin and I have spent a lot of time on Track­man over the

last decade, and I think one of the rea­sons he is one of the bet­ter ball strik­ers on tour is be­cause of his un­der­stand­ing of the why. He knows enough that if he’s hit­ting a cer­tain shot, he knows how not to hit that shot again. When you know the why, you can play ugly bet­ter.

Most am­a­teurs have the wrong idea of why the ball is do­ing what it’s do­ing. The only way you can change and im­prove is if you un­der­stand the prin­ci­ples of ball flight. If I de­liver 20 de­grees of loft and I’m five de­grees down with my at­tack an­gle, I’m go­ing to have 25 de­grees of spin loft. You need that “a-ha” mo­ment that if you hit down, the ball goes up with an iron. If you top it, that’s prob­a­bly be­cause you’re try­ing to scoop it.

A lot of tour play­ers put an align­ment stick on the ground, and then put a ball po­si­tion stick down to make sure they set up cor­rectly. Over time, their eyes get used to that po­si­tion, but they still keep us­ing them on the range so they don’t slip into bad habits. Most am­a­teurs think it takes too much time, so they don’t bother. There are many ways to get bet­ter, but you need to be dis­ci­plined.

Get­ting fit­ted is very im­por­tant. I look at the de­tail Justin goes into mak­ing sure that the set he has is op­ti­mal, so why would the same process not help you and my dad? Tay­lor­made, for ex­am­ple, has so many clubs to choose from, but there are also lots of shafts out there which load and kick dif­fer­ently. That’s re­ally im­por­tant be­cause peo­ple don’t load the force and torque into the club the same. Golf is not a cheap game, but if you’re go­ing to in­vest in it, try to get the most out of it by get­ting fit­ted. Shap­ing the ball is not as hard as peo­ple think. As far as set up goes, you need to know that where you want the ball to start is where the club­face points. So, if you want to draw it, you’ve got to get the club­face closed to the path and if you want to fade it, you’ve got to get the club­face open to the path. What hap­pens is that peo­ple try to hit dif­fer­ent shots from the same set up. There are nu­ances in how you can set up to make the ball curve dif­fer­ently, so play around with and use an align­ment rod. Get the stick point­ing to the right, set the feet to that line and try to draw the ball back to the tar­get. If you want to fade it, just do the op­po­site.

Don’t just go to the range and hit your favourite club. My dad, for ex­am­ple, hits a lot of wedges dur­ing a round. So, it makes sense that he prac­tises hit­ting those clubs on the range. My ad­vice would be to get an idea of which clubs you use the most of­ten, and then try to get bet­ter us­ing them. For in­stance, be­cause Cameron Champ is such a long hit­ter, 80 per cent of his prac­tice time is spent hit­ting shots from 160 yards and in. I love watch­ing Cameron hit­ting 4-irons, but he’s re­ally not go­ing to hit that many.

‘I put a lot of trust in him with my game and I be­lieve in his abil­i­ties to help me with my game’ JUSTIN ROSE

Wil­lett hired Fo­ley in Au­gust 2017, and has found his form again af­ter slump­ing to 442nd in the world rank­ings.

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