The Sweet Sound of Potential Improvement

Jerry and I had a practice session yesterday at the chipping green and driving range that left me quite frustrated.

As of right now in my golf practice, I'm incapable of hitting anything longer than about a nine-iron. I've been feeling a bit demoralized, so I'm trying to find my way past the struggle and discover new ways to practice and improve.

This spring, I've been working on initiating both my up- and downswings from the hips rather than letting the arms lead. The result, when I've succeeded, has been effortless power and beautiful flight paths. I've been most successful at it chipping and pitching, and while "effortless power" isn't something you may particularly want in your chipping, I've been willing to accept overhitting the hole in exchange for substantially better direction and loft.

I came to yesterday's practice session with a question I wanted to test: would it be possible to practice chipping with, say, a six-iron, and begin to groove that same swinging-with-the-lower-core that I've been playing with on pitches and nine-irons, and then bring that groove to the range on full-swing six-irons?

So far the answer is: nope. (Anti-climax, I know.) But my struggle and frustration led us to some ideas that will be interesting to play with over our next practice sessions. We think we identified some physical patterning in stance and alignment that I've done so long I'm no longer aware of them, patterns that are substantially getting in the way of a smooth, fluid swing. A fair amount of my practice over the next several weeks may be as simple and unexciting (but critical) as addressing the ball over and over, trying to groove a new stance.

Not to say that there weren't a few real positive results (rather than potentialities and areas for future practice) from the session. The most notable was that on a couple of occasions, practicing chipping with the six-iron, I hit the ball extremely cleanly. The sound of a cleanly struck ball is unmistakable and tells me that I'm doing something right, and gives me hope that I'll be able to do so again.

(I should note that while I struggled during the session, Jerry, playing with the idea of chipping with longer clubs and putting a similar focus on the hips as the driving impulse of the shot, ended up hitting seven-irons at the range so well he was giggling.)

After we finished at the range, I decided to go to the tennis courts to hit some serves while bringing that same focus on the hips. I also decided I would approach the shot differently from how I ever have before. Rather than try to emulate the smooth, unified toss-hit motion I see from top servers, I decided to just toss the ball up high enough that I could kind of reset before swinging through. Because I wanted to get the feeling of swinging from the hips and letting the arm follow, I gave myself permission to do nothing more than try to strike the ball that way, with no focus on aiming at all. To my surprise, I immediately found myself hitting some of the smoothest, most powerful serves of my life, with surprising accuracy. To my further delight, the sound of the ball leaving the strings was, like I describe above in relation to hitting a golf ball, immediately recognizable as an extremely cleanly hit ball. I've never heard that sound from my shots before. Previously, all I've ever heard when hitting the ball was a relatively high-pitched toink, but yesterday the ball came off the strings with the deeply satisfying pock sound that I've heard from better players but have never before achieved.

So while it was partly a frustrating day, and while I may not always be seeing improvement, what I'm hearing is that putting focus on motion from the hips is leading to the potential for definite improvement.

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