The Desperate Golfer – part 4

Continued from part 3

And the reason I wasn’t focused was because I was so concerned about my swing. At this point I was taking a lot of golf lessons, weekly lessons on trying to perfect my technique. Maybe it was my fault, maybe the pros but most likely a combination of both. But I was lost and some sort of consistent game seemed like a long way off.

Choosing a target is only part of the equation. You need to be able to get the ball there. Hitting the ball is the hard part.

It would be nice if we could walk up to the ball, hit it and have it find the target. Nice, but it’s not realistic for most of us. In saying that, I believe all of us have the talent to hit the ball to target, but we need a slight mind-shift for it to happen. Here’s what I mean.

We all try and hit the ball dead straight. We obsess with alignment and make sure we’re square. We love to see the ball fly dead straight. But is this obtainable? I think not.

To hit the ball dead straight is almost a fluke. The clubface needs to be perfectly square and your swing path right on line. If either is slightly off the ball will curve left or right. But if you didn’t care about the ball flight, only with getting the ball to the target, what would you do?

This is also profound because many of us have a natural shot shape. If you forget about all the crap and swing naturally, your ball flight will be predictable. It won’t fly straight, but it will curve. But we fight this predictability. We want to hit the ball straight. It’s rubbish. Most of the golf professionals we watch curve the ball. Almost all of the legends of the game maneuver the ball.

Jack Nicklaus hit the fade
Greg Norman hit a fade
Gary Player played with a hook shot
Tiger Woods loves working the ball
Bubba Watson hits all sorts of shots but rarely a straight one

I remember a story from Harvey Penick. He used to give golf demonstrations during baseball games and would get the crowd to yell out shots they wanted him to hit.

“Hit a big slice” – Penick would hit a slice
“Hit it high” – he’d hit the ball high
“Hit it far” – he’d whack the ball over the back fence.
“Hit it straight!” – That would always get him.

The straight shot is a myth. It’s not easy. It’s almost impossible.

I’d also found something funny with my game. When I was in trouble off the tee and needed to hit a curved recovery shot, I was almost always able to do so. That never really hit home to me until I really started to think about the game and the magic of having a clear intention (goal) for each shot.

For me the hook shot was easy. I could aim to the left and curve the ball back to the right. I rarely missed the shot. If someone put a gun to my head, I could definitely hit a hook shot time after time.

Things started making sense.

1. I wasn’t choosing a predetermined target

2. I wasn’t choosing my shot. A shot I knew I could hit each time

I picked out my 8 iron (the 7 and 8 irons a great clubs to work with. They are long enough to get good distance but are short enough in length to make learning a little easier) and set up two targets about 5 metres apart.

My goal/objective was to start the ball at the left target and then curve it back to the right one. Pretty simple, eh? It was simple but vastly different to what I was doing previously. My mind wasn’t occupied with swing rules, technique or any other rubbish. My goal was basic, start the ball at target #1 and draw/hook it back to target #2. My “natural” swing and subconscious would be free to work out all the minor details – like hitting the ball.

This way of playing is very normal for me now. It is second nature. It’s automatic. But back in the day I was full of all sort of excitement. And I was excited because I was getting results. The ball was able to find the target most of the time. I’m not exaggerating here. I was experiencing success more often than failure. For a struggling golfer this is big news.

I changed clubs. This time a 5 iron. The target moved further away and I separated them a little (the longer the club the more sidespin you put on the ball – the more they curve) and once again I was getting success. Wow! This really does work.

I went through all of my clubs and kept getting a successful result. I could start the ball to the left target and it would come back to the right. At some point during this practice session I was joined by my mate. He was like me, battling around the amateur circuit, trying to find a game and hoping he could “work it out”. He was inconsistent but had plenty of promise.

I didn’t say anything to him, just kept hitting my draw shot. He went through the standard routine – which was like my old routine – hit and hope. After a while he stopped and said, “Strachan, you’re flushing the ball today, whatchya working on?”

“Not much”, I said. “A bit of this and a bit of that. But yeah, they’re coming off really well.” I struggled to contain my excitement. I knew I was onto something and it was different from other times when I thought I had “found it”. But I never told my mate what I was on to. Not sure why, but I didn’t want him to laugh at me and think I was weird, I just kept doing my thing. Interestingly he never spotted the fact I was playing with a draw/hook shot. It could have been the fact he was more concerned with his own game but I suspect that to the unsuspecting eye the shots look like they were going straight.

Normally, when hitting balls, something would almost always click and I’d start hitting the ball like a champion. But it would never last. The second I changed clubs or target, whatever I had found would be lost. I’d then spend the next hour/week/month/year searching for it. From here golf became some sort of unhealthy obsession of always tinkering and always on the lookout for the little bit of magic. But it never lasted and it was so bloody frustrating never being able to replicate good results.

I finished up with a hard, low two-iron. For about the 134th time that afternoon, the ball started to the left and curved back towards target. The shot was flush and it felt good. Really good.

By now I wanted to go play. I had an urge like I hadn’t had in years to go out and play the game. It was like being 14 again, how I would run home from school, grab my clubs and then run to the golf course. I was excited and couldn’t wait to go play. Golf was good again and I felt there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

To be continued…

References: you can read the series of Desperate Golfer posts here

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16 Comments

  • Steady

    Reply Reply October 19, 2012

    @Cam Love it great post.
    However I do beg to differ on one point or maybe you can offer an explanation.
    Other than the straight shot can we pre-dertimine the shape of that shot by setting up
    or presetting for a fade/ draw hook or slice.
    If I want to hit a draw or fade I preset about 2 meters behind the ball set up and swing.
    This gives me instant feedback as to the feel of that shot and a visual aspect too.
    eg for a fade/slice I can describe the feeling of that shot. The back swing is reduced immensly, the shot i see visually is that it is going to cut across an imaginary line out to in and I have a fairly good Idea that the shot will fade or slide. Same for draw/hook the back swing is longer I visually see the ball coming in to out and I also feel the the pivot being my left leg my body swings around that.
    I now really play by feel not technique even though I have just described the technique for me it is the feel of the swing. When i hit a great shot for me it is like hitting a cotton ball- effortless and the ball zips off the face of the club.
    Just my thoughts.
    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 20, 2012

      Steady: 100%. You are free to hit any shot you want. In fact, I encourage all golfers to expand their possibilities when it comes to hitting the ball. The concept here was to find your natural shot first and then use it anytime you’re under pressure or need to get the ball in play.

      This was a huge realisation for me. It almost single-highhandedly transformed my game. From this one insight the path to better golf was opened. It was far easier and effective to build on that “shot shape” than what it was to try and play the ball straight.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply October 20, 2012

    Hi Cam,
    so the straight shot is indeed a myth/accident more than anything.Let me rephrase that. Straight shots from wedeges say up tp say 9 iron are achievable. However as the loft decreases and shaft length increases these shots become harder to achieve. Hence YOUR NATURAL shot starts to come into play. Now golfers need to know this inorder to start gaining some success instead of trying to chase their tail on the myth of good swing=straight shots=good scores.
    Cam finding your natural shot needs to more than anything be emphasized I get it and so do a few others, I see this as your blueprint.
    1 Find YOUR Natural shot
    2 Go out to a course and Play with that shot.
    3 Don’t fight it or try to chase the straight shot mastery myth.
    4 Build a very Rock Solid preshot routine through distraction for every shot.
    5 Repeat repeat repeat repeat for the entire 18 holes no matter what.Good/Bad or Ugly. No fixing just natural shot and solid preshot routine.

    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 20, 2012

      Steady: I keep sharing the “blueprint” and more and more people are listening. Sometimes it can take a while for the info to sink in. Sometimes you read the advice but you’re not really listening – it goes in one ear and out the other 🙂

      If you’re really into the game you can work the shorter shots. Naturally they’re not going to curve too much but it is possible to get them to move through the air. It’s also fine to learn other shots – but this is something that can be done during “play” time and then naturally integrated into your game. It’s all about having some fun, learning and exploring.

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply October 20, 2012

    Played in the third round of my championships today and thought that my approach to auto golf was the best it has been for some time but I didn’t score.The reason I didn’t score I think was more down to proper decision making but I still walked off the course unstressed.
    Cheers Lukey

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 20, 2012

      Lukey: course strategy is tied into the process. I find we tend to play too aggressively and hope for the perfect shot. When it doesn’t come off we get mad/frustrated/angry/pissed. So I encourage you to look at your strategy and not be afraid to alter it. A conservative strategy might just give you the freedom and confidence to swing without fear. Good luck with it.

  • Cam280

    Reply Reply October 20, 2012

    Played monthly stableford today, pared the front 9, which is the harder of the 2. 3 over by the 17th green with 2 putts for par walked off with a tripple then bogeyed the last. Self sabotage is insanity 5 putt on the flattest green from 1 meter awesome stuff.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 21, 2012

      Cam280: Something malfunctioned here for sure. There will always be some bad stuff – but 5 putting is not good. From memory, this is not the first time you’ve 5 putted is it? Sounds like you’re whacking the ball way too hard or doing something a little out of the ordinary. Can you share more of what happened?

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply October 20, 2012

    Cam (Strachan): any thoughts on the little talked about “fear of success”?

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 21, 2012

      GP: I have some thoughts – let me get them together and post something in the next few days. How’s the golf coming along?

  • Cam280

    Reply Reply October 21, 2012

    In retrospect, I had a 5 foot putt for par, which would have given me 39 points and with one to play I was looking at 41 which would have won A grade. The rest was theatrics!. Always good for a laugh with foolish behaviour.
    I might have been a tad result driven which tends to rush my shot and I possibly came out of the shot to soon, maybe I should set up in the future that I dont have to push the shot if I want to have a look, there was a whisker in it, plus the green sloped that way which would not have helped the cause.
    Over all its the best I have played in ages!. I had 12 putts for birdie, converted 2, 3 up and downs, 1, 3 putt earlier in the round which I put down to a faster than normal green.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 22, 2012

      Cam280: I have found the game too hard to play theatrics. It’s usually just a waste of all the good work to throw away shots because of a missed putt or bad shot. I’m sure you won’t do it again.

  • Cam280

    Reply Reply October 22, 2012

    It wasn’t up to me, it was my sub-conscious, I walked in 36 degree heat following golf carts around all day and I new with the wind blowing and my ability, plus my past memories of the 18th, the possibility of a birdie on the last was going to be near impossible. I had to par the 17th for a chance to win. All my eggs were in the 17th basket. I don’t play for second or for my handicap. I play to win!!!. My drive on the 17th left me 65 meters and I left my pitch on the fringe, that was my mistake.
    Regarding the Skins game on video, I will upload to U-Tube in the next week or two let you know when it happens.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply October 23, 2012

      Cam280: If you’re going to go for it you have to live with the consequences when things don’t come off. There are certainly times when you must play aggressively, like when you’re 1 down playing the last, but I think this “winning” mindset gets you too far into the future. Best you stick to your routine and try and play the shot you know you can hit.

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