What is functionality in golf? It’s a term often used in the sphere of golf instruction, yet few take the time to understand what it means and the significance it has to the decisions an instructor makes on the lesson tee. It is important to clearly define and distinguish between function and form.
A functional swing is simply one that successfully produces intention. A golfer's intention is identifying
1) Where the ball will go
2) How it will get there
So what affects the golfer's ability to successfully produce intention? The answer is golf's moment of truth: impact. The golf ball will always communicate the information given to it at the moment of impact - not address, takeaway, backswing, downswing or follow through. Often golfers work through swing changes they have self-diagnosed without properly understanding how these changes will affect/improve their impact conditions.
When attempted changes do not produce better impact, it is likely the golfer is chasing improvements in form rather than improvements in function. Often, the golfer wants more than anything to see his swing mimic that of the latest Masters Champion with little to no regard for the resulting ball flight.
The principle of function over form can be seen most clearly on the practice tee at PGA tour events. Take some time to watch players warm up and notice similarities in form versus similarities in function. What you will likely find is the shape and style of golf swings (form) vary greatly from player to player. Conversely, listen to the quality of impact (functionality). You will not likely find such glaring differences from player to player.
Changes in form must be properly matched to the desired improvement in functionality. Be sure to seek assistance in understanding what form changes in your swing will produce better impact.
Technology in golf often acts like a measuring stick. Wouldn't you want to build a new house or fix your car knowing exact numbers rather than simply guessing? Of course. Knowing must be better than not knowing, right? In golf, it may not be such a simple answer.
How did the greats such as Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Jack Nicklaus set records and win majors without knowing their swing direction, angle of attack, path and face numbers and smash factor? Simple. They didn't need to know. And if they did, it could have ruined them.
Analyzing numbers on Trackman can be either incredibly beneficial or entirely counterproductive depending on how a player uses the data. I often see amateur golfers use technology in a way that only compounds a problem. They perceive positives and negatives as flaws, and work to zero out their numbers (path and face, specifically) in an effort to reach the holy grail of golf - the straight ball. While it is true that path and face numbers closer to zero will lead to a straighter ball flight, the surprising fact is that pursuing the straight ball flight is anything but desirable.
Based on everything we have always believed to be true, it’s fair at this point to question that last statement and ask how this could be the case.
First, a truly straight ball flight is extremely rare. In order to produce it, (provided centered contact) the club face and club path must both be aligned perfectly with the target at impact. Since golf is played as a side-on sport with a round ball and round swing and round club faces, an actual straight shot is practically an accident. This is why I recommend AGAINST players’ using alignment sticks to align perfectly square to their intended target.
Second, assuming the player aligns square to his intended target, any deviation in either path or face away from zero will produce an undesired golf shot. For example, provided centered contact, if the club face at impact is square but the club path is not, the ball will launch towards the target and curve away from it due to spin axis tilt. If the club path is zero but the club face is not, the ball will launch left or right of the target and curve further away from it. Both situations are unpredictable and not advantageous for anyone striving to play his best.
My suggestion is to use Trackman to identify patterns, especially during periods of success. Knowing what you do when playing well is infinitely more valuable than knowing what you do when playing poorly. How often do we hear stories where people shoot their career best rounds while playing a 10-15 yard fade then head to the lesson tee begging to see the ball draw? Knowing the ball will curve in a certain direction is a gift and should be appreciated. Rather than trying to get the ball to curve a different direction, why not learn how to make your curve more functional? This could mean reducing the amount of curvature, improving start line to better accommodate curvature, etc.
Seek predictability and function, not perfection.
It is no mystery that amateurs take the majority of their strokes from areas on and around the greens. PGA Tour commentators and conventional golf instruction have preached for decades that the most effective way to improve scores is by devoting more practice time to improving the short game. Statistically speaking, I could not refute this notion. I do refute it however, because statistics alone cannot effectively determine a proper practice schedule.
It is true that most amateurs could benefit a great deal from learning to execute the basic shots needed around the greens. What is also true but rarely discussed is the fact that amateurs hit on average fewer than 50% of greens in regulation - adding undue stress and pressure to their short games. Not only do amateurs hit very few greens, but their misses tend to end up in spots from where even many PGA Tour professionals would struggle to get up-and-down.
I am not advocating that players reduce the time they spend on their short games. I'm also not advocating that they reduce the time they spend on their golf swings either. What I advocate is based on the premise that golf is a cause-and-effect sport, and that practice schedules should be designed in a way that addresses the root cause(s) of high scores rather than raw data such as "putts per round" or "scrambling percentage".
For a large percentage of the golfing public, learning how to drive the ball better should dominate practice time because their errant drives leave them out of position. This directly hinders their ability to score well. For this reason, I cringe when club professionals complain about members who "spend too much time hitting drives and not enough time practicing their putting".
In order to lower your score quickly and dramatically, you must first take an inventory of your game, identify the area that typically causes the most damage to your score, and turn it into a strength. For you, the cause might be your approach shots that wind up too far away from the hole, increasing the chances of the dreaded three-putt or missed up-and-down. For others it may be the short game, which constantly fails them after their approach shots land on or near the greens. Whatever the cause is, I have laid out below several practice suggestions for you to employ to help turn your weakness into a strength. It is also helpful to have someone else observe your game to help identify weaknesses objectively. A missed 10-foot putt for par often causes many frustrated golfers to cite their putting as the root cause of why they lost a shot, when it reality it was a poor chip or pitch that left them with a difficult, low percentage putt.
Executing your pre-shot routine before each attempt, hit 10 drives to roughly a 20-yard wide fairway. Record the number of drives that successfully land within the boundary. This is your base number. You will then attempt to hit your base number in succession. For instance if your base number is 4, you will attempt to hit your fairway 4 straight times. Once you do so, you will be able to tee up 10 more balls and try to establish a new and improved base number. The ultimate goal is to be able to establish a base number of 10 - meaning you landed all ten drives in your fairway. You can only attempt to improve your base number by hitting your previous base number in succession. This drill can be very tiring as well as time-consuming due to the number of drives required to hit. I recommend recording your base number at the end of each practice so you are able to pick next time where you left off. For those who struggle with hitting fairways, understand that it may take a long time to finally hit a base number of 10. Stick with the drill and I guarantee it will improve your driving.
Weakness: Iron Play/Approach Shots
This is called the 9-Ball Drill. Select a target on your practice range that resembles the size of a putting green. The distance of the target will depend on whether your weaknesses typically derives from short, mid or long approach shots. Go through your pre-shot routine and attempt to hit the target using each of the 9 possible ball flights (Low fade, low straight, low draw, mid fade, mid straight, mid draw, high fade, high straight, high draw). It is important to go through your routine for each attempt. Record the number of attempts it takes you to successfully hit your target with each of the 9 ball flights. The goal is to complete the drill in 9 total shots.
Weakness: Short Game
I am a firm believer that effective short game practice mimics on-course scenarios. This is called the 10/20 Drill. All you will need is a single wedge, your putter, a golf ball and a practice green. Give yourself 10 different shots from off the green and attempt to get the ball up-and-down each time. The shots you choose should offer varying levels of difficulty. The goal of the drill is to take no more than 20 strokes to hole-out from 10 locations. If you fail to complete the drill, take note of the number of strokes you took and attempt to improve on that number.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reply in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and I hope this helps your game!
My "Best in Show" List from the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show:
While functional technique, a good short game, mental strength and hard work are all necessary to shoot lower scores, possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of reaching personal potential in golf is perfecting the art of course management.
Yes, art. Golf is an artistic game. There is truly no right or wrong way to go about playing it.
Too often I see players make major course management decisions based on what they perceive is right or wrong, what they think PGA Tour players would do or what the three other players in the foursome do, rather than what their gut tells them. Such dysfunctional mental processes cause them to freeze over the ball for a seemingly endless amount of time. Indecisiveness and doubt consumes them. Eventually they end up pulling the trigger because the thought of backing off, putting the club back in the bag and starting their pre-shot routine all over again is simply too much to bear.
This is why individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking is so important in golf. You must have no doubt while standing over a shot that you will trust your swing and commit to the shot. The next time you play golf, listen to your gut. Don't start your golf swing unless you believe in the club in your hand and the target in your mind's eye. For instance, if the thought of hitting your driver off the tee brings about feelings of negativity and anxiety about where the ball may go, don't hit the driver. If you're still not confident even hitting 3-wood, don't hit it. Heck, pull 5 or 6 iron if you have to. The consequences of losing yardage pales in comparison to the consequences of losing a ball or taking a drop from a hazard.
While confidence and trust are paramount in good course management, I do have three general principles that I believe are significant and applicable while maintaining individuality in your game.
1) Play to your strengths: Take an inventory of your game and identify the aspects of your game in which you find the most success and aspects that give you the most trouble. Zach Johnson in the 2007 Masters is a perfect example of this principle. Rather than conforming to how the rest of the field was attacking the par-5s at Augusta National, Zach chose to play to his strength (his wedge game) by laying up to his favorite yardages to set up birdie opportunities. Zach won the tournament, in large part, due to the fact that he played the par 5s that week in 11 under par. This coincides with the idea of playing golf with total trust and conviction. If you love a certain aspect of your game, does it not make sense to trust it? Below are several examples of ways to play to your strengths:
2) Do not let one poor swing beat you twice: Bad swings happen to everyone. You cannot prevent them from happening regardless of how much you trust your swing, the club in your hand and the target in your mind's eye. The fact that they happen is not nearly as important as how you respond to them. You can choose to either let the bad swing affect the next shot by lingering in your mind and clouding your judgment, or you can treat it as an opportunity to show off your patience and mental strength by accepting it and moving on. The history of golf is filled with examples of players making seemingly devastating mistakes, only to recover victoriously by remaining focused on the task at hand and trusting their routine.
3) Consider my 2/3 rule: When faced with a decision on whether to take a risk on the golf course, three main requirements determine whether or not I will attempt it. If the shot meets at least 2 of the 3 requirements, I generally decide to go for it. The requirements are as follows:
Improving course management is one of the quickest ways to shave strokes off your handicap. Good course management can turn a bad round acceptable, an acceptable round good, and a good round great.
One of the biggest "buzzwords" used in the modern game of golf is Pre-shot Routine. You hear it on the Golf Channel, in magazines and even from your own friendly neighborhood PGA Professional.
But what exactly does it mean?
Think of an NFL kicker - Adam Vinatieri for example. Long before the ball is even snapped, Adam engages in a process that prepares him to make his best attempt at a kick. He starts by standing adjacent to the holder, placing his right foot on a spot he chooses for the holder to place the football upon. He then takes two steps backwards, two steps to the left, then focuses intently on his spot. Once the ball is snapped, instinct takes over and he executes the kick. While the physical act of kicking a football and hitting a golf ball could not be any more different, they share many psychological similarities. Adam clearly has the capability of making his field goals without taking exactly two steps back and two steps to the left
So why does he do it?
The answer is because it is a psychological mechanism. By taking those four steps, Adam is able to consciously revert back to his practice habits; the habits that result in him successfully executing field goals time after time without even thinking about it. They act as a comforting agent - a way to block out distractions and direct his attention solely to the task at hand. By using the steps, Adam knows that he will give himself the best chance to succeed regardless of the circumstances.
Taking this knowledge and integrating it into your golf game is essential. A routine allows you to successfully take your range game to the course; an issue that many weekend golfers ask me for advice about. I always tell them, play like you practice. This means that your pre-shot routine on the course should mirror the way you approach a practice shot on the range. It can be anything you want it to be. If you rake range balls from a pile and mindlessly whack away at them on the range, it's most certainly not the best idea to take 3-4 practice swings and deeply analyze each shot on the golf course. I suggest using practice time to develop your pre-shot routine from both a physical and mental aspect. While on the range, simulate different ways you could approach each shot on the course (ensuring it conforms with USGA pace of play regulations) and stick to the one you are most comfortable with.