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At address, the feel of a good practice swing is what's important, not mechanical thoughts.
At address, the feel of a good practice swing is what's important, not mechanical thoughts. (Courtesy of Wicked Stick Golf Links)

For better results, bring feel to the golf course, not thoughts

Steve Whidden, PGABy Steve Whidden, PGA,

Our job as golf instructors is twofold. First, we have to teach the necessary skills it takes to perform all the shots involved in playing this great game. Second, we need to help our students succeed on the golf course -- driving the ball, hitting a hybrid solid, hitting irons more accurately, chipping the ball closer and hitting putts with better speed.

There are certain essentials, of course, that must be taught by us and performed by our students for the shot to come off successfully. Something we hear again and again from our students is that either they feel their practice swing is perfect but they can't seem to hit the ball when it comes time, or they hit it well on the practice range but can't seem to bring it to the golf course.

I have a two-part solution to get our students to perform better on the golf course. One part lies with us as their instructor, and one lies with them as the player. Here's how it works.

Golf is a game that is to be played by feel. Yes, there is no disputing the fact that we must teach our students the correct motions, but all of the motions lead to correctness in the most important part of any golf swing -- impact. We need to be making sure that our students are capable of making "a good practice swing" at impact.

Instead of the student being misled that their practice swing feels great, since there is nothing like ball flight to tell them any different, we must teach them what requirements a practice swing must have as far as feel. Then it is their responsibility to feel it when they go to hit their shot.

For example, a correct iron shot requires a proper angle of attack, which has the club head descending down, hitting the golf ball first and then hitting the ground. This would result in a divot that is left of the ball. During our students' practice swings, I doubt they pay much attention as to where the club is actually striking the ground, and sometimes they rehearse a stroke with an iron, do not brush the ground but still claim that it was a good swing.

We need to make sure our students are capable of making a scar left of the ball, or hear the swoosh with a driver from the ball forward, or look at the hole while taking a practice putting stroke, and be able to feel the length and pace of stroke they're going to need on a particular pitch shot while still making the correct impact requirement of scuffing the grass left of the ball.

Swing by feel, not thought

Once those requirements are fulfilled I teach my students to get up to the ball and, without delay, try to make the same swing by feel, not thought.

The routine that I teach is very simple and has proven wonderful results in my students:

Step 1: Line up the shot from behind the ball, picking an intermediate target a few feet in front of the ball to aim the club face, and pick a target left of the intended target in the distance where it will feel as though they are aiming when they correctly aim parallel left of the target.

Step 2: Walk to the side of the ball and place club head away from but equal to the ball, and get ready for practice swing.

Step 3: Make a real length and speed practice swing fulfilling the requirement of good impact for that shot (swoosh at the ball and left of it for a driver, a divot at the ball and left of it for irons, a bushing of the grass at the ball and left or it for hybrids and fairway woods, a putting swing while looking at the hole that feels just right).

Step 4: Once that requirement is accomplished, the student should step up to the ball and say to themselves "same thing" as they actually hit the shot.

This method has proven to not allow the student to get bogged down with a lot of mechanical thoughts while over the shot, and the little amount of time between the successful practice swing and the actual shot is so little that the body is just trying to emulate a feel not trying to figure out how to do it. After all, that's our job to teach them how to do it; it's their job to feel their way to better golf.

This routine has given me a way to evaluate not only their skill level but also their mental focus. Better results spread like wildfire, and my ability to get my students feeling golf instead of working at it has kept my lesson book filled to the brim.

PGA Master Professional Steve Whidden is the owner of The Steve Whidden Golf Academy and director of instruction at Rosedale Golf and C.C. in Bradenton, Fla. He has been named a top 50 instructor by Golf Range Magazine (2014, 2013, 2012), a Top Instructor in America by Edwin Watts (2013), the North Florida PGA Section's Teacher of the Year (2013), the Southwest Florida Teacher of the Year (2014, 2013, 2010), and the Horton Smith Award winner (2013). He is also a featured instructor on Golf Channel's "Swing Fix" program.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • bad left knee

    elliottalexander wrote on: Nov 18, 2012

    left knee keeps me from completing my turn on a consistent basic.


      • RE: routine setup

        Archer L. Dabney wrote on: Jul 18, 2013

        Your tip is fantastic. Feel is what makes the swing effective and smooth.


  • Golf shot feel

    Denny wrote on: Oct 30, 2012

    Practice to develop a good swing but once you get on the course you have to trust your feel and swing on that day for your shot. Trying to change things on the course will make for a long day and poor score. Have a solid pre-shot routine that includes a positive target thought is important for your confidence and shot making ability. Consistent routine a must.