Monday, December 10, 2012

The Golfer's Toolbox - game management

We hear all the time about course management. This deals primarily with tactics of how to plot your way around the course, picking sensible targets to aim for, and also allowing for your shot patterns to occur. Game management is subtly different, although there may be a cross over between this concept and course management. I am going to have to create clearer definitions in my head before I fully introduce the concept of game management in order to try and create separation between the two. But for now, I am going to talk about something which many can relate to. I would certainly file this under ‘game management’, hopefully it will be clear to you why.

I was watching this youtube clip of Tiger Woods giving a clinic. Although the sound quality is not the best, if you are willing to listen to it, there are many gems contained. Most of the real quality pieces of information are things which most people would not hear – not because the sound quality is poor, but because the average golfer listening will be listening out more for technical secrets, and so the quality information will pass through their conscious filter. One of these gems is where he says “I will try and shape it both ways”. Whilst I could go on for days about this, I won’t here, as I have another agenda with this article.

At 2 minutes and 38 seconds, a spectator asks
  “Tiger, there’s gotta be days when you are going left, going right. When you find that out in the warm up, do you adjust”?

Tiger replies by saying that he will try and fix it, but if he can’t fix it, he will go on the course and change his ‘aimpoints’ with his course management. This is obviously a hugely important skill to learn in course management, and I discussed this HERE. Poorer players will try to fix things on the course too often. You will usually find that more experienced players, especially tour players, will be wise enough to go with the shape they have on the day, after trying a few simple fixes first. This will probably become less common, as more players become indoctrinated into the idea that they need to be constantly fixing their swing. But truly exceptional players, like Tiger, will really understand when to fix and when to play with it.

Fix it

Whilst I am generally against the idea of fixing your swing before a round of golf, there are times where it may be necessary. My preferred method of fixing is auto-correction, a notion I will talk about in a later article. However, it can take many years to get to this level, so sometimes we need a different plan. I am going to explain this idea in terms of my usual fault – a ball which curves too far to the left (a hook shot).

I’m a pretty accurate player and rarely suffer with direction problems. Of course I hit the occasional ball in the trees, but I deal with it, move on and forget about it quickly enough without starting tinkering with my swing – a trait which I strongly believe contributes to my consistency with accuracy. However, some days I get to the range and the ball is curving too much to the left. When this occurs, here is my plan of action, moulded through years of experience;

Tool 1 - The quick fix

When the ball curves too much to the left, it is because the clubface is too closed to the path (in my case). The simplest fix I have in my bag for this may shock you down to the core of your being. It may take everything you know about kinematic sequences, lag pressure points, axis tilts, pressure and centre of gravity graphs, deceleration sequences (and so forth) and throw it down the drain. Well, Maybe I am being a little over dramatic.

The fix? I set the clubface open at address, then I grip it. Now, without changing anything in my swing, I have the clubface in a more open position, turning the hook into a playable draw. In about 80% of cases, this solves the problem for me. It is also something which can be easily tweaked and varied through the round (or calibrated, as I like to say), with the minimum amount of conscious effort, or thinking.

If I open the face 5 degrees or so and the ball is still hooking, I will open it 10 degrees. Hell, I have even played great rounds with a clubface 40 degrees open in my younger days. It’s not optimum and it’s not pretty. But you get used to it after a while and don’t even notice it (my average set up has the clubface around 5-10 degrees open at address and most of the time I am not aware of it at all. Also, it’s quick, easy and involves less conscious swing manipulation – something which I am largely against on the golf course.

This is mainly a pre-round fix; something I would use to get me through the day without having to resort to a more dramatic swing fix. I would spend the time in my practice session working on more appropriate fixes, but I would never practice before I play.

Tool 2 – the less comfortable fix

On the rare occasion that opening the clubface at address doesn't solve my ball flight woes, I have another trick up my sleeve. By simply weakening the right hand (turning it more to the left at address, or seeing 3 knuckles instead of 2), it influences the clubhead to stay more open through impact.

Due to this being a more physical change (not quite as dramatic as a swing change, but bigger than opening the clubface), it is less comfortable for me. Through years of experimenting with different grips, and using this ‘tool’, it has become easier and easier to implement. However, When I use it, my attention tend to get directed more towards my hands, which is something I prefer not to have. However, it works for me and can be used in conjunction with the first fix.

Tool 3 – Left hand

I won’t talk about this one too much, as it is too similar to the last tool. Put simply, If I have used tool 1 and 2 and the ball is still hooking undesirably, I will weaken my left hand grip by changing from a 3 knuckle to a 2 knuckle grip via the action of turning my hand more to the left.

Needless to say, this throws me more out of my comfort zone – yet works when called upon.

Tool 4 – the intentional fix  - practice swing

I use this fix a little more often than I should, as sometimes I skip tool 2 and 3 and head straight to this one. I can’t describe why I do this, it is just something I do, and listen to my instincts. This tool involves more of a conscious swing fix, although I keep it as instinctive as possible.

With this tool, I try to visualise the club clubhead coming through impact facing more to the right. I have practiced hitting fades plenty of times in my experimentation sessions, so I understand the feeling and can implement it quickly. However, to limit how much I am thinking about this movement over the ball, I will first implement this thought in a practice swing. I then walk towards the ball and hit it as normal, with the hope that the practice swing will have influenced my movement over the ball.

Tool 5 – Double it!

With this tool, I am basically taking the practice swing from tool 4 (a  fade swing / open face swing) and doubling the feeling of it. For example, if feeling the clubhead come through impact 10 degrees open didn't work to fix the left ball, I will feel it come though impact 20 degrees open.

This picture does have a purpose. As well as a very weak link to 'doubling it', it also serves the purpose to drive more traffic to the blog. It seems that blondes capture your attention

With this idea, you must understand that feel is not real. I may be feeling a 20 degree open face, but in reality it may only be 4 degrees open. But you have to do what it takes to get the clubhead on the ball correctly, even if it doesn't feel correct.

Tool 6– the intentional fix - over the ball

This tool is similar to tool 4. I am basically making the same practice swing, feeling the clubface being more open through impact / a fade swing. However, this time I am not only doing it during my practice swing, but I am more conscious of it during the swing with the ball.

Whilst this is a conscious effort, personally it provides less consistent performance. However, it is a much more powerful tool for me to change the shape of my ball flight, therefore I will use it if the previous tools have failed.

Tool 7 – the mechanical fix – practice swing

Most people jump straight to this one. I tend to see that this should be saved more for last, and also implemented in a more cautious way. It tends to produce a bigger change in ball flight, but also a lower level of consistency (something about internal focus has been shown in many skill sports to produce this phenomenon).

With this tool, I am essentially introducing an internal swing thought in order to influence the clubface. This usually takes the form of isolating my left wrist, and feeling it more cupped on the way down. This thought usually provides me with a very dramatic shift in ball flight, easily changing a hook into a fade or more. For this reason, I am cautious with how I use it, so I will tend to use it only in a practice swing.

Tool 8 – the mechanical fix - over the ball

I guess you saw this one coming. This is simply tool 7 applied as I am hitting the ball. I am taking the swing thought and having my awareness on my left wrist being cupped as I hit the ball.

Thinking over the ball like this is a great way to change your swing rapidly, but can be easily overdone and tends to lead to less consistency for me in particular. So this is really a last resort, scraping the bottom of the barrel type tool. But hey, If that ball is hooking left and I have tried everything else, I will use this tool.

In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I have used this last tool, as usually my tinkering stops after tool 4 or 5. In most cases I have found a playable ball flight by tool 2 or 3, to which case I simply adjust my aim points, like Tiger said.  But tool 8 is there, if I need it. I even have tools beyond this – other mechanical thoughts, doubling/tripling certain feelings etc. But the more I play and experiment with golf, the less I seem to need the tools, and the more my body can auto-correct. This seems to be a positive by-product of building your own toolbox and experimenting on the range with certain skills.

Some of you may have identified that the ‘fixes’ I used primarily dealt with the clubface, whereas the cause of a hook can often be the swing path. I know this to be true, yet it has been my experience that changing the path is too big a task to be done pre-round and should be dealt with in practice sessions so that it can be done with less conscious effort. But by getting a more open clubface at impact, you can turn that hook into a playable draw – so that is my goal when PLAYING GOLF.

That is essentially the difference. This toolbox epitomises one of the traits of great players, and one of the differences between ‘playing golf’ and playing ‘golf swing’. The person who is playing ‘golf swing’ will be searching for that perfect movement which will help zero out their numbers on a Trackman and produced a perfect ball flight. The person who plays GOLF will get the ball around the course with whatever flight they have, using a few simple tools, which are sometimes quite ugly, to help them this that goal.

So, as a quick re-cap to this lengthy article

  • If you have a playable ball flight – play with it. Use course management skills to help you
  • If not, have a toolbox prepared, and a method of implementing them which causes the least disturbance and the maximum performance benefits. My personal toolbox looks like this
    • Quick fix with no thought and no discomfort                       tool 1
    • Quick fix with no thought slight discomfort                          tool 2
    • Quick fix with no thought and more discomfort                   tool 3
    • Instinctive external thought during practice swing                tool 4
    • Instinctive external thought doubled                                    tool 5
    • Instinctive external thought during the shot                          tool 6
    • Mechanical Internal thought during practice swing               tool 7
    • Mechanical external thought during the shot                        tool 8

Try to make your own toolbox. At first you may only have 1 or 2 tools. But as you get more experienced, you can grow your repertoire of skills, and also become more adept at working out an order of implementation – like mine.

I have toolboxes like this for the main faults in every golfer’s game. If I am hitting the toe of the club one day, I have a toolbox for it. If I am fatting or thinning the ball one day, I have a toolbox for it. There is nothing more distressed than a golfer hitting poor shots with no idea how to fix it. I can speak from personal experience that


This mentality breeds confidence, and it positively affects every part of your game. Contact me if you would like to talk more about this idea –


  1. Really like this and agree with the 'quick fix' often being enough, especially on course. Some of the best feedback I have got from golfers (when they understand ball flight) is that they 'just' changed a pre-swing element and coped for that day, and then could work on stuff post round etc.

    I find everyone is different and others 'back themselves' to make a lot of the other changes on course. I would definitely agree that tool 7 and 8 are least consistent and can lead to not finding the 'middle ground' and instead going both ways!

    Would love to see your toolbox for off centre hits.

  2. Really liked this article, thanks.

    1. Thanks Ant - I hope I got the message across well. The difference between a quick fix and a toolbox is subtle - yet every good golfer has their own toolbox to use on the golf course


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