Are you a golfer? If you live in Kelowna there’s a good chance you are because the sport is huge here and people can play 6 or 7 months of the year with over a hundred courses to choose from.
But even if you’re not from the Okanagan you may an interest in getting in a round every now and again. And the funny thing about golf is that it’s so hard to master. It’s pretty tough to have your driver dialed in, hit your irons tight to the pin and then drain all the short to medium distance putts.
What’s even funnier is the emphasis we place on driving compared to putting when it comes to practice. People will hit hundreds of drives at the range but zero putts. And during a round they may pull the driver out of the bag 18 times max during a round but putt anywhere from 1-3 times per hole. So 18 total drives versus 18-54 putts per round. And with a few par 3s thrown in there there’s no way you will use the driver 18 times. Anyways, you get it. To lower your score work on your putting.
So how can you shave strokes off your score with improved putting? Well I’m not a golf pro so won’t tell you anything about grip, club path or how to read a green. Instead I want to give you 2 tips from training that should help you make more putts.
Tip #1 – Set the Stone, Fire the Hammer
A few years ago I was able to set Dr. Stu McGill present in California. And if you’re familiar with Dr. McGill he’s one of the premier spinal researchers in the world. Much of what is done on the training room floor is influenced by the research of this man which is why we don’t do a lot of movements which move the low back but emphasis hip and thoracic spine movement.
Anyways at this presentation Dr. McGill showed video of George St Pierre kicking a heavy bag during training. There were electrodes hooked up to GSP to monitor muscle activity during the kicks. They (the researchers) could later evaluate which muscles he fires, how quickly he fires them, how quickly he relaxes these muscles and how much stability he generates through his core.
When performing a kick GSP would set his core when his plant leg contacted the ground then release all his force upon contact with the bag. The researchers would see dual spikes in muscle activity. And when asked what goes through his GSP would answer in a heavy French accent ‘I think boom-boom’.
Dr. McGill summarized with an expression that has stuck with me. He called this setting the stone and firing the hammer. The first expression of muscular activity was setting the core and the second was releasing the force through the extremity. You can picture the same sequence when listening to the breathing patterns of a professional boxer.
So how does this related to golf? Well with swing of the club during a putt we want the body to be quiet except for the arms and shoulders. If there is slack in the system there is a greater chance for the body to leak energy and alter the swing path.
Consider the following analogy to see what I mean. Imagine your putter tied to a piece of rope at the end where the grip is and then hanging vertically. You could pull the rope taut and release the putter so that it would follow a natural smooth arc as it swung back and forth.
Now try the same thing except for instead of a piece of rope tie your putter to a piece of bungee. You know the tie-towns with hooks you use when loading stuff in the back of the truck? Once the putter is tied to the bungee pull it back and let is swing as well.
What you would notice is the putter tied to the bungee would bounce up and down a little bit while swinging back and forth. The putter would not follow as smooth of a path and be erratic.
So before you putt make sure to set your core then let the movement flow from a stable base.
Tip #2 – Breath from Your Diaphragm
Breathing is very interesting. It’s the first and last thing any of us will ever do during our lives. We take almost 700 million breaths during our lives. And yet we don’t give breathing a second thought and never consider it during training or competition.
Now I won’t go into a lot of detail here but it’s important to mention that there a couple of ways we can breath. One is with our chest (thoracic) and the other is with our stomach (diaphragm). Ideally we would like most of our breathing to be from our stomach.
However as a result of stress, poor posture and lack of awareness most people breath primarily with their chests. You will recognize these types of breathers as their chests and shoulders rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. There are some other differences you could use to distinguish the two types but we’ll leave it at that.
On of the important differences between thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing is the part of the nervous system they are associated with. Thoracic breathing is related to the freeze-flight-fight response. This is a stress response of the sympathetic nervous system and is associated with dilated pupils, tightening of muscles, elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, diminished hearing/vision and shaking.
This is exactly the opposite way you want to feel before lining up your putt.
So what can you do?
Well as you examine the green and plan your putt start breathing through stomach. Inhale and expand the abdomen, hold the breath momentarily then release the breath allowing the abdomen to shrink back. Practice a 2 second inhale, 2 second hold and 4 second exhale well before your next round so it is more natural when you’re on the green. Look to take your breaths in and out through your nose.
As you step up over your ball let out your last breath. Take in one last inhale. Set your core accordingly. As you hold this breath all motion in the body is controlled to allow for an optimal putt.
Give these two tips a try the next time you play a round. They may just shave a few strokes off your game.