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Forget all you know; just grip it and rip it

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Yeah, I know - me and six bazillion other yahoos.

But, this is a simple theory, unlike all those six bazillion other simple theories.

I believe if you have a modicum of athletic ability, and don't have any serious debilitating injuries like missing at least two limbs and a cerebral cortex, and you are left alone on a driving range, you'll work it out.

If you have two hands, a spinal column and a nervous system, it will come to you. Eventually.

Wipe out all those magazine articles and tips from pros, cousins, friends and all those people who just seem to be full of advice, and just swing away. Let her rip. Don't worry about your grip, balance, alignment, rotation, swivel or swing plane

Just see how far and straight you can hit the ball. If you hit it short and to the right or left, don't do that again. If you hit it long and straight - DO THAT AGAIN!

Over time, your brain will get in touch with your body. Now you may have a grip that looks like you're choking a monkey and your backswing might bring Ben Hogan out of his grave, but who cares?You're splitting the fairway and your friends hate your guts. And what's better than that

I used to thing the grip wasn't that big a deal, that the teaching pros overrated it. I was wrong.

Here's why: I happened to be playing the best golf of my life for about a month-long stretch until I made the terrible mistake of taking a lesson. I didn't go looking for a lesson; it was sort of thrust on me, but that's another story.

In any case, the lesson was from one of the best: the David Leadbetter Academy at Championsgate. Leadbetter is considered one of the best in the world, and rightfully so.

This lesson came from one of his assistants, an extremely clever, thorough and patient young man. He studied my swing, and the first thing he noticed was my grip.

He changed it. He gave me a special Leadbetter club with knobs on it so you were forced to grip it the Leadbetter way. Yes, it felt unbelievably awkward, but on those few occasions I hit it correctly, the five-iron soared 180 yards, over the bunker, and dropped softly a few feet from the flag.

Then he videotaped my swing and we went back to the video room. There I was up on the big screen, in slow motion. He put me on a split screen with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Nick Price.

He talked earnestly about swing planes, drawing diagonal lines on top of Tiger's swing, and then mine. He talked about a lot of things, which all sounded great in theory. I thought the fact that I could understand what he was talking about would translate into me playing like Tiger, Ernie and Nick.

Then I went on the golf course and for the next fourdays played the worst golf of my life. Suddenly, I developed a slice.Suddenly, I was hitting it short. Suddenly, the fairway became a distant, unattainable dream.

I couldn't break 90.

But, this was Leadbetter, and I knew it had to be gold. So I stuck with the new grip until my fingers bled, literally.

The last straw came when I played a round with three decent golfers who should not have been out-driving me. But, they were - by about an average of 40 yards. I was starting to feel like I was playing for the pink team.

Still, I stuck it out - until No. 18. By then, I'd had enough; one can suffer only so much humiliation in a single lifetime. So I decided to go back to my old, absolutely incorrect grip. You guessed it - right down the middle of the fairway.

Granted, the lesson was only for a half day, and if Leadbetter had me for a week or so, I might have golfing buddies who hate me even more than they do now.

But, I don't think so. The point is, there are a million different ways to hit a golf ball straight and true, and the only person who can teach you how to do it is yourself. Ain't nobody else can climb inside your body and brain and swing it for you.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Grip It And Rip It

    Wayne Carrier wrote on: Nov 9, 2004

    Right on Tim, about time someone debunked all the high priced propagands emanating from the mouths of self-grandiosed teaching pros -- especially those who do more teaching in magazines, on TV or videos, or who operate schools under their names, but leave the real teaching to less flamboyant, more down to earth underling instructors.
    My biggest problem in conquering the frustrating but wonderful game of golf, is weight shift during my swing. I was an amateur baseball player (yes, we do play real baseball up here in Canada) for many years, and my body often can't resist "swinging from the heels." Many teaching pros (the down-to earth variety) have told me "concentrate on your weight shift", which I always do, usually with little or no improvement. Finally, an insightful, down to earth pro acknowledged that almost all golf pro's don't know a remedy for weight shift problems, EXCEPT to advise pupils to CONCENTRATE! Why is that, I asked? Because, he replied, they are golfers, not baseball players -- if they had been good at baseball, they would likely have concentrated on that sport as teenagers and pre-teens; not on something as slow (to the minds of most kids) as golf. I took his advice, and stopped going to teaching pros for help with my weight shift problem. Teaching pros have been very helpful in assiting me to correct or lessen the impact of swing faults that have not been germinated and taken root from many years of some other activity. So, to all teaching pros, before giving advice to "concentrate", try doing a bit of history taking from your students. If they are former baseball players with a weight shift problem, maybe Mark McGuire can help them more than can a golf pro.


  • Grip it and Rip it

    Michael Turnbull, Mindful Golf wrote on: Nov 2, 2004

    I think you've hit the nail on the head, Tim...why can't we find more teachers who can guide us to learn from our own experience? If your own frame of reference is your own experience then you become much more capable of knowing when you are on or off track. The goal of lessons should be to increase the student's independence from the teacher, to help them find their own way. Teaching should not be the primary focus of the teacher...the goal should be learning. And if the goal is learning you can trust that experience will teach.
    And who's in charge of the learning? The learner. The teacher is in charge of the learning environment. I'm guessing there wasn't much exploration, experimentation, adventure or trust during your lesson. And if the learning environment is not safe enough to explore or experiment, then the students will be too fearful to stretch or challenge themselves--they'll try too hard to do it "right" and block any feedback from their bodies, the club or the ball by overtightening...If the teacher doesn't trust the student to learn, why should the student trust themselves? Human beings are natural learners, it's built into their DNA. The teacher just has to guide them a bit and get out of the way. Learning to swing a golf club doesn't have to be hard; it should be as natural as learning to walk or throw a ball. It seems to me that we learn best when we learn by doing, instead of thinking about doing.
    One more thing...I would change your headline to "Forget all you THINK you know; just grip it and rip it" If you have to try to remember tips or instructions while you play or practice--instead of focusing attention on the differences in feel of a swing that works and one that doesn't--then you really don't know. The body doesn't need more instructions on how to swing a golf club--it needs accurate, moment-by-moment feedback on what the clubhead is doing...and it needs relaxed concentration on the differences in each swing.


  • Grip it and rip it

    Dan Hager wrote on: Nov 2, 2004

    If it worked for you in your English class, then it could work for you on the golf course.


  • Grip it & Rip it

    JoAnne Lusk wrote on: Nov 2, 2004

    Natural golf is on the decline because it is not effective. Holding the club in a neutral position and the hinge and release of the wrists is the most effective method to achieve club head speed. If it was so great most pros would be using it to beat VJ. Find your self a good pro who sticks to fundamentals and take instruction one step at time. If I had a magic wand I'd be wealthy.
    JoAnne Lusk PGA/LPGA
    Teaching Professional


  • Grip it and rip it

    Dunan wrote on: Nov 1, 2004

    You need to get worse before you get better. It's lazy to expect to be a better player after one lesson and one round. If you are chaning your grip, swing or posture you need to gie it at least 3 months before you get it nailed and start to see the improvements.


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