Home » Golf Instruction

Developing a fundamentally sound practice swing is an essential part of making great golf shots.
Developing a fundamentally sound practice swing is an essential part of making great golf shots. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)

Pay close attention to those practice swings

Steve Whidden, PGABy Steve Whidden, PGA,
Contributor

Students ask all the time if they should take a practice swing or not. In response, I ask if they do in fact partake in this all important facet of the game. The answer usually comes back "sometimes."

That's like admitting we would "sometimes" like to hit a good shot.

I also hear from many that their practice swing is very good, but the swing they put on the ball is poor. Maybe. Let me explain.

Golf is a motor skill, which means that the way that we swing a golf club is basically formed by an image that we have in our brains. If the imagery we have is poor, than the resulting swing will typically be poor. Many argue that there is no such thing as muscle memory in golf, just motor memory. I agree.

Example: One of the biggest skills missing from golfers is the ability to hit the ball first and then take a divot. Most exclaim that this motion is just for the pros, or must take some great strength. Neither is true. We are all born with an instinct to scoop the ball into the air by releasing the club head too early in the downswing in an attempt to get the club "under" the ball.

Once the student is taught that that, in fact, is not how the ball goes up, but instead the proper motion of taking a divot in front of the ball, all the brain cares about from that point forward is to take the proper divot. The student can draw a line on the ground between their legs perpendicular to the target line and practice taking a divot at or in front of the line.

But what they really are doing is building motor memory. The brain will tell the body how to do this action over time. When the divot is behind the ball, typically subconsciously, the brain has resorted to its old reasoning; not because the golfer has physically performed poorly. As far as I know the arms and the hands that are doing the scooping do not have a brain, so something had to tell them to do it!

Back to practice swings: Take them very seriously; your brain is paying attention. The ball does not really care too much about anything else but what the golf club is doing at the moment of impact. So if taking a good divot in front of the ball is something that happens on chips, pitches, irons, hybrids and fairway woods when hit properly, then when you set up for a practice swing, set up equal to the ball (a few inches away), make a swing not thinking of how to take the divot, just on making the divot in the correct location. This may make a try or two. As soon as you see the proper divot, get right up to the ball and hit it without delay.

Basically what has just happened was your brain gave you the correct information, the body responded with how it is going to do it and you just tried to replicate that motion. That is how you play a motor skill.

Remember, you can drill on the range working on hitting in front of the line, but when it is time to play, your brain does not care about the way it happens, it just wants you to show it the correct motion and then wants to fire.

Those who have trouble taking the "perfect" practice swing and have trouble hitting the ball, upon further review, actually do not have a correct practice swing, they are actually putting the same incorrect motion on the shot and are disappointed.

So, yes, take a practice swing. Know what requirement that practice swing must have (divot in front of ball), set up to your shot, and hit the ball.

Stick with this routine and enjoy the great shots that are coming your way.

PGA Master Professional Steve Whidden is the 2010 SWFL Teacher of the Year, owner of The Steve Whidden Golf Academy, director of the Teaching/Instruction Division of the Southwest Chapter of North Florida PGA, director of The Greater Sarasota Junior Golf Academy, and director of instruction at Rosedale Golf and Country Club in Bradenton, Fla. He is also a featured instructor on Golf Channel's "Swing Fix" program.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Practice Swings

    Tom Carpenter wrote on: Sep 9, 2013

    This article on taking a divot could not have come at a better time...For some unknown reason this year I started hitting shots thin I struggled all summer...I thought I was lifting my head BUT when I took my practise swing on the course I didn't want to tear up the fairway ot tee so I kept the head above the grass and developed a bad habit...I would resolve it on the range but go right back on the course..I hope this will now be resolved...Thanx

    Reply