Blog 104, 3/21/11 - Too Much Information From Foley and McLean?

Jim McLean
While happily working my way through the most recent edition of Golf Digest (just love that Masters preview), I came across an instruction article by Jim Mclean that made me stop and ponder. A few minutes later, having left the McLean tip behind, I happened upon Sean Foley's lesson that had me cogitating some more.
Here's an extract from Mclean's page: "From the top, the right elbow drops in front of the right hip, then the arm straightens like a piston, pushing the clubhead down to the ball. The lower body, which is leading the downswing, starts to release upward and toward the target." The headline on Foley's article, meanwhile, reads "BREAK YOUR SWING INTO SEGMENTS".
McLean and Foley are two of the best teachers in the world. The number of people that know as much about the golf swing as they do could probably be counted on the fingers of one and a half hands. McLean lists Gary Player, Bernhard Langer, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, and Sergio Garcia among his former pupils. And as well as tutoring Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Sean O'Hair and a handful of other top tour players, Foley is the man currently blessed (cursed?) with advising Tiger Woods.
Sean Foley
There's obviously a great deal a seasoned golfer can glean from lessons like those McLean and Foley give in the current Golf Digest. However, I would suggest the typical 90s-shooter give them a wide berth. Everyone learns differently and at different speeds, be it by hands-on manipulation, visual demonstration, or verbal instruction. We all respond differently to the various directions a teacher might give us. But I can't help thinking that attempting to drop the right elbow in front of the right hip while simultaneously releasing the lower body upward and then toward the target is likely to tie the average amateur up in knots. And breaking the swing into five different segments might seriously impact their ability to generate clubhead speed.
My experience as a teacher taught me that when working with mid-high handicappers with limited flexibility, rather than attempting to improve a student's swing, the main task was establishing a swing in the first place. A good player whose technique is solid and tempo consistent, and who has time to devote to analyzing, even modifying, his action, can focus on things like swing-plane, shoulder-plane, rotation of the torso, position of the hips, and the like. But the infrequent golfer who just wants to go out with his buddies at the weekend and would be happy with a few good shots without having to spend hours at the range, might do better by focusing on nothing more than swinging the clubhead.
'Swing the Clubhead' was the title of an instruction book written by Englishman Ernest Jones, and first published in 1937. Jones was an incredible golfer who shot a level-par 72 on a tough links course not long after having his right leg amputated below the knee (the sad result of being hit by a grenade in France during WW1). In 1923, Jones arrived in the US where, despite his disability, he worked as the head pro at the Women's National Golf Tennis Club on Long Island, NY., and as a teacher at an indoor studio in Manhattan. Among his many students (he is said to have averaged 3,000 lessons a year in America) were 1940 US Open champion Lawson Little, and six-time US Women's Amateur champion Glenna Collett Vare. And among his most famous quotes was this line about the importance of focusing not on the movements of your various body parts but on that of the clubhead; "The golf swing can be readily taught and consistently performed, but only if it is conceived as one, overall movement. The body and all its parts should be treated as disastrous leaders, but wholly admirable followers of the actions of the hands and fingers."
Jones believed it was not advantageous for the average golfer to concern himself with thoughts of technique and what his hips, knees, shoulders, and arms might be doing. He simply encouraged his pupils to feel the weight in the clubhead and let it dictate the movement of his body. That's pretty simplistic, and these days there's a belief that if something is simplistic it isn't worthy of consideration. But I think newer golfers, those that have yet to establish a repeatable swing, would do well to favor Jones's simple, unvarnished method, rather than get too bogged down in the sort of mechanics McLean and Foley are advocating.

I was interested to hear what some of our own Bellingham teaching pros thought about the Golf Digest articles.
Phil Gaggero - Lake Padden
PhilGaggero"The information provided in McLean and Foley's articles is WAY too much for anyone to think about. While I completely agree with McLean's main point (when the left knee straightens simultaneously with the right arm straigtening at impact it can create an explosion of speed), the move he is talking about tends to happen naturally and isn't necessarily something that can be taught...taught easily anyway. I do teach it but I never explain it in quite so much detail."

Nathan Vickers - North Bellingham
NathanVickers"I think there is certainly merit to McLean, Foley, and Jones's views. Being too technical can obviously be a bad thing and has hurt my swing in the past. Many golfers, including myself, don't have the appropriate build to put the club in what many teachers consider the perfect positions. I think it would probably be good to work on what McLean and Foley say on the range in order to improve your swing and build some muscle memory. But when playing the course - all that most weekend golfers have time for - adopting Jones's far simpler approach would probably work better."

Mike Montgomery - Bellingham Golf & Country Club
mikemontgomery"Many of the great teachers are blessed with very talented students and their main goal is to help the player stay out of his/her own way. Eventually most teachers that want fame learn to 'sell' their approach, and then recruiting better students is the key to them proving their method. Most country club greats such as Rick Acton and Bill Tindall go relatively unsung because they spend so much time teaching golfers that will never win the 16-flight of the member-guest let alone a televised tournament.
That said, I think that 'swinging the clubhead' is a little too simple although it's a great thought to have when taking a 'new' swing to the course. And yes, most poor players have no concept of feeling the club load and unload. My personal competitive thought is 'soft hands, quiet body'. That's how I get rid of the steering wheel. But I do believe swing plane is hugely important. I want to work toward a swing that turns back and through without much manipulation or relies too heavily on good timing. That's what works under pressure."

Ben Harvey - Shuksan
benharvey100"I like Ernest Jones! I think Tiger and other top players might learn a little something from a guy like Jones. When you think of the golf swing as five different segments that in itself sounds unorthodox. How can someone achieve good tempo and return the clubhead to the same position as it started when they are trying to hit five different positions along the way? Being able to feel the clubhead during the swing is very important to professionals and weekend warriors alike."

I think Jones would have given a big thumbs-up to Ben Harvey's lesson advising golfers to get a feeling for the swing by imagining nothing more complicated than skimming a stone across a lake (or hitting a baseball perhaps). The beauty of a lesson/drill like this is that it promotes all the correct moves without the golfer consciously thinking of them. This enables you to focus on rhythm and tempo, and allows you to swing hard.

WWU Tied Fourth in New Mexico
On a day that coach Steve Card described as brutal, No. 2-ranked Western Washington University did well to complete the first round of the Western New Mexico University Invitational at the University of New Mexico GC in Albuquerque tied for fourth on 22-over 310. With gusts reaching 50mph at one point in the afternoon, Fort Lewis College (Colorado) was the only team to break 300.
Sophomore Dylan Goodwin is tied for seventh in medalist play after a 75 while Sandy Vaughan and Nick Varelia each shot 77and are tied for 15th. Xavier Dailly had an 81 while Brian Barhanovich suffered the worst of the conditions during an 88.
Fort Lewis leads by nine from Grand Canyon University, and by ten from CSU Stanislaus. Western is tied with CSU Monterey Bay, while No. 1-ranked Chico State is sixth on 311.

Goldie Tied for Lead in California
Western Washington University's Christa Goldie is tied for the lead and the Vikings lead by five after Monday's first round of the Chico State University Invitational being played at the Canyon Oaks Country Club in Chico, CA.
Western, ranked No.5 in the latest Golf World/National Golf Coaches Association/NCAA Division II Top 25, shot 313 in an opening round that took six and a half hours to complete. The round did not start until 12:45 p.m. because of course conditions caused by wind and rain over the weekend and was suspended for nearly an hour due to lightning. Cal State Monterey Bay and Grand Canyon are tied for second in the seven-team field at 318.
"We played pretty well today on a very tough golf course," said Western coach Bo Stephan. "There's not one hole where you can just let it go off the tee. You're always having to place the ball."
Goldie shot a 4-over par 76 and is tied with Darcy Lake of CSU Monterey Bay. They hold a one-stroke advantage over third-place Jacqueline Sneddon from Grand Canyon. It is just the second tournament of the season for Goldie, who missed the fall portion with a shoulder injury.
The Vikings have two more players in the top ten. Claire Rachor is T4 after a 78 while Kara Zitzman is T6 on 79. Sophie Elstrott is 12th (80) and Katie Sharpe 17th (83).

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