Is posture important? I think so!

One of the most common faults that I see when giving lessons is the posture or set up position at address.  For those of you who are wondering what posture is, it is simply the position your body is in at address prior to making any movements in the golf swing.

There are a few key thoughts that I believe will help you ensure that you have proper posture at the address position:

1.) Proximity to the golf ball – How close do you stand or how far away should you stand?

  • In my opinion, this is determined by the amount of spine angle you have at address which ultimately is determined by what club you are hitting and your body type.  Spine angle is the measured angle of the spine as you bend from the hips towards the golf ball at address.  As long as your arms aren’t extended past your chin line (See examples of chin line below), your weight is positioned over your instep, and you feel comfortable at address your proximity to the ball is likely just fine!   See examples of spine angle and proximity to the ball in the picture below:
Tiger Woods - Iron has 53 degrees of Spine Angle Jason Day - Driver has 59 degrees of Spine Angle
Tiger Woods – Iron has 53 degrees of Spine Angle
Jason Day – Driver has 59 degrees of Spine Angle

2.) Arm Hang – How should my arms be positioned?  What is arm hang?

  • Arm hang is how the arms literally hang from your shoulders.  In my opinion, the arms should fall directly beneath your shoulder and should hang comfortably.  I do not like to see the hands too tight to the body or pushed away from the body outside of the chin line. See below of two examples of great arm hang:
Hunter Mahan - Fairway Wood and Rory McIlroy - Mid Iron .... notice how both players hand lie directly beneath their shoulders and inside the chin line!
Hunter Mahan – Fairway Wood and Rory McIlroy – Mid Iron …. notice how both players hand lie directly beneath their shoulders and inside the chin line!

3.) Athletic Position – what is an athletic position? How do I achieve this?

  • An athletic position will be achieved with a back that’s fairly straight, feet near shoulder width a part, a slight knee flex, and your butt should push away from the golf ball. If you’re reading this please stand up nice and tall with your feet near shoulder width a part.  Place your thumbs on the outside of your hip joints, bend forward towards the golf ball keeping your back nice and straight while bending at your hips…not your back. Now add some knee flex (not too much though) and at this point you should feel most of your weight on your toes.  Stay in the position you are in and rock back slightly allowing the weight to move towards the center of your feet.  You should feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings, calves, and lower back.  If this is painful to you, please go back to your current posture for the time being and see a local PGA Professional for more help. See two different athletic positions below:
Two players in Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer who have different body types, different club choices, different spine angles, and different amounts of knee flex, but both have wonderfully athletic postures!
Two players in Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer who have different body types, different club choices, different spine angles, and different amounts of knee flex, but both have wonderfully athletic postures!

If you work on understanding those three concepts, your golf swing will not get started off on the wrong foot!  I am going to display a few pictures of a student that I am currently working with that will show the impact a simple change in posture can do wonders for a golf swing! We are working on changing his ball flight from a sweeping high draw that often misses left to more of a tight draw with a lot less curvature. By changing the set up position, I felt we could change the path the club was traveling on through impact.  I wanted to see the path move less from in to out and even get the club path to travel down the line through impact or slightly left to hit a fade if he so chooses.

Address Position

Top of Backswing

Shaft Parallel During Down Swing

Impact Position

Shaft Parallel During Follow Through

Finish Position

In the before swings he is wearing the blue sweat shirt and after swings he is wearing the maroon shirt. You will notice at set up his back had a slight curve to it and his hands pushed away from his body.  We talked about moving a touch closer to the ball and feeling his hands hand from his shoulders, thats it!  Nothing more, nothing less, and no in swing concepts were added.  You will notice he has more control of the club at the top of the back swing and the club begins to travel on a much better path.  This is shown by the picture where the shaft is parallel to the ground halfway through the down swing, the position at impact, and the position of the club with the shaft parallel to the ground during the follow through.  You can really see a distinct difference where the club travels along the plane line much better and even stays on top of the plane instead of underneath it as the club approaches impact.  Because of the better path through impact, you will notice he is able to swing the club down the target line instead of to the right of the target line.  He also finishes the swing in a much more controlled position and I believe this is because of the control he isn’t having to release the club as hard through impact to ensure the ball curves back to his target. Below you will find a video with an explanation of this all as well.

You can clearly see that some great changes can be made throughout your swing by simply adjusting your set up/posture at address.  In my opinion most swing faults during the swing are caused by poor posture, alignment issues, and grip problems.  Please stay tuned for blogs pertaining to those topics!

Thank you for reading and giving me an opportunity to help you with your game during 2015!  Please leave all comments below or email me at jmerlin@pga.com!

 

Joe Merlin

 

 

**** The images of the professional athletes came from Youtube and I used the Analyzr Swing analysis program to screen shot them.  I do not own the rights to the original videos. ****

2015 PGA Merchandise Show!

The 2015 PGA Show has come and gone, but that’s not to say it wasn’t exciting!  I had the opportunity to meet some great new friends as well as learn about the latest and greatest products in the golf world today.

First, I am going to talk about some great new friends that I made and some friends that are already very special to me!  I will continue building great relationships with these people, well because they are rockstars in this industry.

The first person I am going to give a special shout out to is James (JR) Pond.  He currently holds the Head Golf Professional position at Lone Pine Country Club located in Washington, Pennsylvania.  Not only does can he eat steak and lobster like a champ, he is somebody that will make you enjoy this great game more.  His passion for growing the game is incredible and his desire to learn more is something that should be desired!  Please give JR Pond a call if your ever in the area!  He will not disappoint, this I can assure you!

Secondly, I would like you guys to meet, another Tri-State PGA member, Brian Rogish.  Brian is currently the Director of Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort located in Farmington, Pennsylvania.  Talk about a guy who knows his stuff….That’s Brian!  I had the opportunity to pick his brain for multiple hours during the week and I can assure you he left me thinking about things differently than I had before.  I can also tell you Brian’s demeanor is something that impressed me.  For someone with so much knowledge, he certainly was willing to share and share at a level that everyone can understand and relate to. It’s not often you find people who communicate the way he can!  I highly recommend Brian if your in the area!

Last, but certainly not least, is Megan Padua!  Megan travels around the country growing the game, but you can find her at Maidstone Club in East Hampton, New York during the summer and at Belfair Plantation in Bluffton, South Carolina during the rest of the year. Megan is impressive, to say the least and her track record of success is just a culmination of her dedication and tireless work ethic.  So far in the short time I’ve known Megan, her schedule has included seminars for personal  learning, seminars for continued growth of others, and the busy day to day private lesson schedule she carries!  She is truly someone I look forward to working with in the future because her passion is so visible and leaves you wanting more!

Below you will find some pictures from the show!  Most of which are products that haven’t hit the market yet and a couple fun pictures from the week!

As you can tell this week is one of my favorites of the year and it’s one I wouldn’t miss out on for the world! If you ever have the desire to experience this for yourself, go visit your PGA Professional to find out more information!

As always, let’s make this your best year ever by having the most fun you possibly can! Please leave any comments you have below.

Enjoy 2015.

 

Joe Merlin, PGA

The Dreaded Bunker Shot

When evaluating your bunker play would you say that your goal is to: Get the ball out, Get the ball on, or Get the Ball Close? Most of you are likely thinking of getting the ball out of the bunker and anywhere on the putting surface, but there may be a few of you who are hoping to just get the ball out of the bunker. In my opinion bunker shots may be the easiest shot in golf to have success with consistently.  Every other shot we need to make perfect contact with a golf ball that is 1.68 inches in diameter, but in the bunker our contact point is actually a window of an inch or two behind the ball.  As long as you maintain your speed and acceleration through the shot your impact point doesn’t have to be perfect to get the ball out of the bunker. After watching the following videos and practicing these techniques I’m sure your goal will change and you will have more success from the sand.

Standard Bunker Play

The main point in this video is to keep the leading edge of the club face pointing to the target at all times and to align your body left of the target.  As you lean the handle of the club back you expose the bounce of the club and allow yourself to have more success from the sand.

Buried Lies

Unlike the standard shot, you align yourself square to the target and close the club face.  Doing so will allow a steeper angle of attack into the ball and the friction caused by the club impacting the sand will allow the clubface to open exploding the ball onto the green. 

I hope you enjoyed these tips and if you should have any questions, please feel free to reach out to a me via my contact page!

Wedge Game

During my collegiate golf career my coach, Pete Coughlin, taught me a game that helped me learn to control my wedges and gave me the confidence I needed while competing. In order to play the game you need nine holes of golf, three clubs, a putter, and a couple golf balls.  The game is played from 120 yards and in on every hole. With each hole that you play you reduce the yardage by 10 yards.(Ex: Hole#1-120 yards, Hole#2-110 yards, Hole#3-100 yards, etc) See below for a full yardage chart. Typically, I played the game with my 9-iron, 52 degree wedge, and 60 degree wedge. Each hole that you play has a Par of three and the nine hole par is 27. I would recommend choosing a club you can comfortably hit 120 yards, a couple wedges, and your putter.

To begin the game walk down the first fairway to a spot 120 yards from the flag and drop a ball.  From here you hit your shot.  If your shot finishes nine feet or less from the hole, you will mark the ball as you would in a regular round and putt from there. If your shot finishes nine feet or more from the hole, pick your ball up and walk off the green keeping the point where your ball finished in between you and the hole. You will walk five paces, drop the ball, and play it as it lies. (Note: if this means you are dropping in a hazard then you take a penalty stroke and proceed under Rule 26) If this shot ends up nine feet or less then you mark it and putt out just like you would in a round of golf; but if you mishit the shot and end up further than nine feet from the hole you proceed by picking up your ball and walking off the green keeping the spot where it finished between you and the hole.  You continue this process until you hole out.  Take a second and reread that paragraph!  Now that you did you should fully understand you may be walking back and forth across the greens a lot throughout the game.  I surely did!

The purpose of the game is to practice your short game and to give you experience hitting shots that you would likely face during your regular rounds.   It will also teach you course management by helping you learn that short siding yourself will likely lead to multiple trips back and forth across the green. Last but not least, this game will provide you an opportunity to get out on the golf course and maximize your practice time. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shooting higher scores than you would with 14 clubs and the course being Par 36 at regulation length.  This game was very humbling at first, but the more I played the better I became and found it to be quite useful.

Please let me know if you have any questions with the procedures of the game and as always let’s make 2014 your best golf season yet!

Hole # Yardage
1 120 yards
2 110 yards
3 100 yards
4 90 yards
5 80 yards
6 70 yards
7 60 yards
8 50 yards
9 40 yards

Pittsburgh Field Club – Course Review

First and foremost, I want to thank you for reading what is my first Golf Course Review.  I have chosen to review a course that is near and dear to my heart, Pittsburgh Field Club.  Before I review the golf course, I would like to give you some history on the member-only-private facility.

Pittsburgh Field Club’s prestigious history dates back to 1882 when a group of gentleman decided to start a club, Pittsburgh Cricket Club,  for people to join and play cricket. Unfortunately, the game of cricket did not become a popular sport the way that golf was so they decided to build a few golf holes on the original property in the Brushton area, a small borough just outside of downtown Pittsburgh.  As the game grew more popular an expansion of the club was inevitable so in 1915 the club was moved to where it currently resides in Fox Chapel, Pennslvania.  The original architect of the course is a legend by the name of Alexander Findlay.  Over the years the course has had many great architects (Donald Ross, Albert (A.W.) Tillinghast, Willie Park Jr., Emil Loeffler and John McGlynn, Bill Irvin, Robert Trent Jones, Arthur Hills, Craig Schreiner, Tripp Davis, Keith Foster) add their personal touch. The last of these, Keith Foster, completed a bunker renovation project in 2012 and the place is spectacular.

When you think of golf courses in Pittsburgh, what is the first course you think of?  If you didn’t think of Oakmont Country Club, OCC for short, I would love to hear what course you do think of & why you think of it first. After you read this blog and do some research I am hoping that Pittsburgh Field Club, PFC for short, will be next on your list.

I have had the pleasure of playing both OCC and PFC in my life. To be honest with you, not that I wasn’t impressed with OCC because it is absolutely everything everybody says it is, but I would rather play PFC daily.  As you make the turn into the golf course you drive up a steep hill and around some curves, likely thinking your lost.  All of the sudden you make a right turn and get smacked in the face with raw beauty.  The majestic clubhouse sits perched on top of a hill allowing you to see almost the entire golf course from the first tee and the back patio where you will find the members dining.  As you stand on the practice putting green you are given the opportunity to see the trek that lies ahead of you and it does nothing, but build the excitement. As you approach the first tee box, you find yourself standing atop of a hill staring at narrow strip of fairway with a bunker on the left and trees lining both sides of the fairway.  You are also blessed with a view of the steeple of Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church.  I challenge you to find a better opening golf shot.

Photo was taken just below the tee box!
Hole #1 | Pittsburgh Field Club

So now that you have viewed the wonderful first tee shot you get a picture of what the course could look like, you’re likely asking yourself, “The rest of the course can’t be that good, can it?”

I am here to tell you the answer to that is without a doubt, YES!  The rest of the course is that good.  In my opinion it is a hidden gem because most people have never heard of it.  As you play the rest of the golf course you wind your way through the valley with little change in elevation except for Hole# 3 and Hole#10 where you find a steady incline from tee to green.  You will find that most of the holes are beautifully lined with just the right amount of trees.  It’s not as if you find yourself hitting out of the forest all day, but you can find yourself hitting a punch shot from time to time. The course itself plays to a Par 71 and roughly 6,650 yards from it’s black tees and 6,350 yards from the member tees.  Some of the standout holes in my opinion are Hole #’s 1,6,9,11,12,16,17, and 18.

As you are finishing your round of golf you are usually tired leaving the 17th green and the walk to the 18th tee can sometimes be a killer. Honestly the walk from 17 green to 18 tee at PFC has been storied to kill people.  It  would be a daunting task for the most in shape individuals. The members early in the clubs history felt its wrath, but today its a piece of cake.  You walk a few hundred feet from the green to an elevator shaft and take the elevator to a walking bridge which takes you through a canopy of the trees to the cart path near the 18th tee box. Yes, I just said elevator and walking bridge through the tree canopy.  It is one of the coolest experiences I have had as a golfer.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get better, it does!  How many places do you play that end on a Par 3?  Not many.  Out of those you have played how many of those finishing Par 3 holes actually look like it was meant to be?  Again, that number is likely very small.  Well those who have played PFC, know the 18th hole is a Par 3 and it looks like it has been there forever even though it has been redesigned four or five times.

If you ever have the opportunity I would highly recommend you taking the day off of work to go and play Pittsburgh Field Club.  You will not regret it, I promise you that. The greatest thing about the course is you never stand on a tee box and think to yourself, “Did I just play this hole?’  Each and every hole has its own character.  The course has a great mix of holes that you can make birdie as well as holes that par is a great score.   It will never leave you feeling like you hit the ball well, but got beat up all day and your score reflects that.  It is a very fair-enjoyable test of golf.

Oh and if you remember, ask somebody in the Professional Shop about “teventeen”!  A tiny piece of Insider information for you there!

Pittsburgh Field Club
Hole #18 Pittsburgh Field Club

Photo Credits: Opening Tee Shot (Stonehousegolf.com)

Tis’ the Question: Putt, Chip, or Pitch???

How many times have you hit a great drive and proceed to miss the green with your second shot. Now you’re faced with the difficult decision of how to get the ball up and down for par. This article will give you some insight to whether you should putt, chip, or pitch the ball for your third shot, as well as a couple of drills to help you with each.

I’m sure you have heard the following, but just in case, here is a rule of thumb to help you with your decision making around the green:

If you can putt, then putt. If you can’t putt, then chip.  If you can’t chip, then pitch.

What this means, if you can make a stroke without interruption (due to the rough being too high) and the path to the hole is clear, then use your putter and a putting stroke to get the ball back on the green.  If the grass around your ball is too high or if there are obstructions in the path of your ball, then use a short iron, to chip the ball onto the green.  If you can’t chip the ball because there is a bunker between you and the hole then you must use a sand/lob wedge to pitch the ball back onto the green.

If you’re reading this and you are confused because you think a chip and pitch is the same thing, that’s ok!

The definition of a chip is a short shot used around the green where the ball rolls further than it flies.  This shot is typically used when you have just missed the green and there is a small amount of rough the ball has to carry before it gets to the green.  The set-up position for a chip is different than your full swing such that your stance should be narrower and your weight distribution should be favoring your front foot.  A description of the chipping motion would be to take the club back similar to your full swing where the club head stays low and in line with your target. As you take the club away, your wrists should be firm, not allowing them to hinge. The downswing is simply letting the club head work through the ball and following down your target line.  Your lead hand, for right handed players this means your left hand to lead the grip end of the club through the shot keeping your wrists firm.  When done properly, the grip end of the club outraces the club head through the ball. At no point during this stroke should the club head pass your hands. During this shot your body should feel natural, but only moving a small amount.  A good drill to practice this would be to take your normal set-up position and grip the club as normal.  Before you hit the shot, take your trailing hand off the club, for right handed players this would be your right hand and learn to make solid contact using just your lead hand.  You should find that if your lead wrist isn’t staying firm or flat through contact the club will bottom out too early and you will hit behind the ball; or you will make contact with the ball as the club rises back up causing you to make contact on the top half of the ball.

Left Hand Only Chipping Video

The definition of a pitch is a slightly longer shot used around the green where the ball flies further than it rolls.  This shot is typically used when you have missed the green and there is a large amount of rough that the ball has to carry before it gets to the green. The set-up position is similar to the full swing, but you will use a slightly narrower stance.  With the pitch you will keep your weight distribution even, instead of favoring your front foot.  A description of the pitch is similar to the chip except that it is slightly longer motion with more wrist hinge where the club head starts to work more vertical than it does in a chip.  You also keep your wrists more fluid and soft through a pitch allowing the club head to work through the ball with a softer action.  In the pitch, your trailing hand (for right handed players this would be your right hand) will work through the shot more.  If you stay relaxed and execute the shot properly the grip and club head should work through the ball at the same time allowing you to maximize the loft on your wedge. This will let the ball travel with a higher flight allowing the ball to stop quicker once it lands on the green. You should also experience more body rotation with a pitch than you would a chip.  To practice this shot, you will set-up and grip the club as normal, but before you take the club away you will remove your lead hand, for right handed players this will be your left hand and practice using just your trailing hand. This will allow you to feel the soft and flowing motion that you need to successfully execute this shot.  If your trailing hand stays too firm you will find yourself catching the top of the ball causing a low ball flight that looks more like a chip.  If your trailing hand releases too early, you will find the club bottoms out too early and you will hit behind the ball. You may also find, it may be easier to feel distance control when pitching if you imagine yourself tossing the ball using an underhand motion to your target. The will allow you to feel the proper length of stroke as well as speed at which you must work through the ball to get the proper distance.

Right Hand Only Pitching Video

Last but not least, to successfully use your putter from around the green pay more attention to the tempo of your stroke. Too often you will find yourself trying to HIT the ball instead of letting the ball get in the way and making a good stroke.  The sensation or thought of trying to HIT the ball will lead to your wrists breaking down and cause you to make poor contact.  The key to getting the ball close is to make consistent contact that you can predict and having a consistent tempo will help with that.  Doing so should allow you to start the ball online more often and you will find your speed control to be much better. REMEMBER:  If you can use your putter around the green more often than not you will have more success using it than you would trying to chip or pitch the ball back on to the green,

These tips will help you get up and down more often and as always if you should have any questions, please use the contact information below to contact me via email.

Hit and Hope: The Key to Speed Control

The golf season is almost here and you have been anxiously waiting for the weather to cooperate so that you can knock the dust off your clubs. Your initial thought probably involves heading to the range and buying two large buckets of balls just so you can try the new Taylormade SLDR driver you bought, right? As much fun as that sounds, how much do you think that will benefit your game? Why don’t you think about finding the closest putting green and spending an hour getting back to basics and getting some feel back into your hands by practicing your putting.  I promise the next time you pick up a club you will notice it won’t feel quite so foreign.  Oh and by the way, I hope the next time you pick up a club you decide to take your putter, sand wedge, and 9 iron back to the putting green because you just finished reading my next blog…Hint: it may or may not involve chipping & pitching. 

We are going to pretend you took my advice and will be starting your season taking a putter with THREE golf balls to your local putting green. Before you begin let me ask, when it comes to putting what is more important, Distance or Direction? Think about the past few seasons, how many times did you three-putt because your direction was off and you missed the first putt 10 feet right or left of the hole? The likely answer is not many, but how many times did you three-putt because you hit the first putt 10 feet too hard or soft?  The answer to this question is most likely, a lot!

Achieving great distance control begins with a simple drill I use each and every time I practice putting as well as before a competitive round.  I call it the “hit and hope” drill. Place three to five balls in front of you and choose a flag or the side of the green.  When you’re ready strike your first putt, but before you look up ask yourself the following question, “Did I hit the putt too hard, too soft, or just right?” (Make sure that you keep your eyes down and head still while asking yourself this question. An example is provided in the video above. ) After you have answered the question, look up and find the result of your stroke. When you see the result, diagnose it and try to make a change, if necessary, before you hit your next putt. (Example: you hit your first putt and feel that you’re stroke was perfect, but you look up and the ball is short of your intended target. You need to either add some pace to your next stroke, lengthen your stroke, or a combination of both to hit the ball further.) Typically, when I introduce this drill to someone, they have no idea what to expect, so they make a stroke and hope, hence the name, “hit and hope”.

This drill will help utilize your senses properly when putting. This is important because it gives you the opportunity to have auditory, kinesthetic, and visual feedback immediately. Use this feedback to improve your putting. If you are unsure of the necessary changes, please find my contact information below and email me with any questions you may have.