I don’t know about you but hitting 800 golf balls a day sounds exhausting. That is how many golf balls Moe Norman hit when he was learning his golf swing between the ages of 14 and 19. Don’t get me wrong, I love hitting balls. It is one of my favorite ways to meditate and if I practice with a purpose, I can make a major improvement. These days, however, after hitting about 100 balls I feel it starting to take its toll on my body.
Moe was extremely strong. Merge his strength with ambition and fortitude and you can understand his mindset when he spoke of other golfers.
“Callouses on their asses and not their hands” – Moe Norman
Moe and I became friends because he saw my same determination. I wanted to be a better ball-striker than him. There were days when I would hit over 1,000 balls where I would reach what I call “threshold”. I once explained threshold to one of my teachers as this:
One form of practice is hitting balls at targets. Another form is working on movement. I reach threshold when I practice a movement in my swing movement for a long enough period of time that my mind and body hit a point where they become malleable and less rigid. The change becomes easier to feel. (This feel comes after “Pounding the rock” – see the previous article).
Similar to when you first start working with clay, as your hands knead the clay it becomes soft and easy to manipulate. Once the clay is soft enough you can make it into any shape you want. This is how I felt the more I practiced partly because I was getting stronger from hitting but also because I had reached a point where I could easily feel and change things.
Most students never reach threshold – this point of malleability. The average student doesn’t understand that the golf swing, like martial arts, is an art form as is every skill that requires a movement of the body.
When you learn a new kick, new dance moves or a new backswing, you must slowly manipulate your body into positions. You might need to warm up and stretch. You should check to see if your movement is accurate. Once you reach your intended position you must rehearse the movement so the muscles of your entire body can move and feel the position. This is exactly the reason why we offer 3-day and 5-day schools. Having students for extended periods allows them to soften up and become more accepting of changes.
Once you can hit the correct positions, repetition will “program” your body. Eventually will build “tracks” similar to a skier on a ski slope who sets his skis into a slot in the snow and the skis automatically follow the path.
Positions before sequencing
Hitting the correct positions comes first. Once you are able to hit the positions you must teach yourself when your body should hit those positions. In a way, the connections of your body move together creating the golf swing movement back and then forward. The connections are easy to locate. For example, your pelvis cannot move your arm. If you start on the ground you will see that your feet are connected to your knees and your knees are close to your hips. Your hips connect with your lower back/torso and your torso is connected to your shoulders and arms. Your hands are connected to your arms and attached to the club.
Sequencing of the golf swing starts with the lead arm and shoulder connection to the torso where everything connects. The torso, arms, and pelvis turn together. If the spine is in the correct tilted position, this movement rotates the club in a small circle into the backswing. Then as the pelvis starts to slow down, the torso continues to rotate as the trail arm folds. The hands lift moving upward. This takes the hands up to the shoulder as the club continues to move on the plane.
I don’t necessarily think that you should slow the backswing down however, it should have a smooth pace to it so that the sequence of the body stays in this connected sequence.
Similarly, the connection continues in the downswing where the pelvis moves first. The torso then pulls the lead arm which pulls the hands and the club. The club “lags” behind the hands to produce speed at the very end of the rotational sequence.
I suggest practicing the body’s connection by slowing down enough to feel how the body parts move, slow down and stop as the other parts move. You can often feel that when some parts stop, others move more freely until they stop etc. I love rehearsal. Rehearsing the movement of your swing is teaching yourself the “total” feeling. It will also you teach you timing and sequencing. These are great sensations for learning.