Sunday, July 10, 2005

You Might Already Be a Winner: A book report.

I have a new instructor and I’m so excited! Perhaps you’ve heard of him or maybe you have even “taken lessons” from him yourself. It’s Ben Hogan!

My colleague and friend, Bill, recently gave me a copy of Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” to me, which had been given to him from his father back in 1965. Thank you, thank you thank you, Bill!

I had Jury Duty on Friday, and I read the book cover to cover that morning while waiting to be called in. It’s got me all fired up. Again. It’s more than just instruction, it’s downright inspirational. He actually has me convinced that I can shoot in the 70s, and relatively soon, if I just follow these basic lessons. It’s also teasing me about how much more I’ll actually enjoy and appreciate the game once I play it better. I kind of already assumed that (duh) but now I know more specifically why and look forward to focusing more on strategy than swing once I get there.

The lessons themselves are precise and simple to follow. The way he explains the REASONS for everything is so helpful to me. Instead of just telling what to do, he tells exactly how to do it, and why it’s important. I plan to go to the range as much as possible and use these lessons. I took some notes on the points that really stood out to me or that I knew I struggled with what he said not to do or that were just especially interesting. I will also be re-reading it from time to time and refreshing myself in certain areas. I'm going to expand on the notes I took below, one lesson at a time. It'll be a relatively long post, but worth the read, I hope!

The Grip:

I think my grip is pretty right on since my runaway instructor already fixed it. I guess he knew what he was doing on that angle. I will double check it against my new bible, though. His explanation of why this grip works makes so much sense about how the two hands work together. Essentially, the grip neutralizes the more powerful right hand and helps it work in conjunction with the left instead of taking over and causing all kinds of problems in the swing. I’ve had so many golfers tell me it’s all about where the V’s in your hands point, and now I know that’s not true. Not even if they would have been correct about the positioning of the V’s in the first place. There’s just so much more to it than that. I also learned a couple interesting tidbits, one that most golfers probably already know: a warm ball flies further than a cold one, and one that people might not have heard or remember from the book: drinking ginger-ale reduces puffiness in hands due to its effects on the kidney.

Posture and Stance:

I was under the impression that my toes should be perpendicular to my target line if I desire the ball to travel straight to it. I thought opening and closing your stance to adjust the ball flight included position of the left toe. According to my new instructor, this is incorrect. My normal stance should have my right toe pointed straight in front of me (perpendicular to the target line) or even slightly turned in toward the target. My left toe should be turned ¼ turn of 90° toward the target, or about 22°. The way I understand it, this is purely in order that my knees will break in the proper direction to get the most power out of my swing. It’s also just one thing in “the chain” of the swing that all comes together to make a repeatable, reliable performance. The book doesn’t go into controlling ball flight and adjusting shots, so I assume what little I know about opening and closing my stance by repositioning the angle of my legs (not feet) in relation to the target line remains the same.

First Part of the Swing:

He talks a lot about the plane of the swing which I hadn’t read anything about until now. I had heard people mention it but I never really knew the significance or understood where that plane should be. The illustrations in the book are immensely helpful. The image of the head protruding through the glass pane which rests on the shoulders and angles down to the ground was especially enlightening. I will be working on these exercises plenty while I try not to shatter that imaginary glass!

At the peak of the backswing, my shoulders should be perpendicular to the target with my back facing it completely. The club head should be pointing right at the target and my belt buckle (were I wearing one) should be pointed at my right toe. He emphasized the importance of not rotating the hips beyond that area in order to achieve the right torsion to increase the power of the swing after the brief pause at the top. So cool!

Second Part of the Swing:

1. Think hips, hips, hips! The hips begin the downswing. I didn’t know the mechanics or steps of this maneuver. I think I assumed the forward swing should travel approximately the same path as the backswing in order to be repeatable and controllable. I probably got it right accidentally some of the time and it produced my best shots and I didn’t know why. I predict working on this the most at the range. Since I read the book on Friday I’ve not had the chance to go to the range but I played a round on Saturday and mistakenly tried to implement this into my game without practice. It just sounds so tantalizingly easy with the most dramatic improvements I had to do it. This is why we test things at the range first. I shot a horrible round, for which I have many excuses in addition to this.

2. The downswing should not retrace the upswing! When your hips start the swing, that motion pulls the shoulders and changes the plane so that you’re swinging inside out. If you always start with the hips and have this repeatable swing, you’ll never be correcting that outside-in swing at the last minute in other ways and getting unpredictable results.

3. The left wrist should be supinating at impact. Put another way, the left wrist is essentially the first part that crosses the line of the ball with your palm facing the sky on your right. Pronating (your palm is facing down) is the cause of many errors – hitting behind the ball and the dreaded skull, but also it causes a change in the arc of the entire swing which of course effects the hit more fundamentally. You have a steeper pitch of the upswing which can cause all kinds of errors in flight, but even if you hit it clean it won’t have the power and predictability it should.


I highly recommend this book to all golfers who want to improve their game. For people just starting to play, I recommend you experience the game a little before reading it so that the references will make more sense. I wish I would have read it for the first time about 2 or 3 months after I started. I think it would have helped me improve faster than I have so far. Before that, I probably wouldn’t have understood some of it. For seasoned golfers, even if you’ve already read it, I recommend checking it out again. It’s not like it takes long to read 127 illustrated pages. Or just read a lesson at a time and work on it in pieces. You might pick up a tidbit you’ve been lax on that will dramatically change your game.

Footnote: Spell check suggested that I replace the word “supinating” with “urinating.” I hope it didn’t mean in the golf swing.

Next post.


mediaguru at hookedongolfblog.com said...

I've read Hogan's book a few times. There is a ton of great info in there.

But the writing style puts me to sleep...

Golfchick said...

True, it is dry. Good thing it's short enough that the content can keep you awake.

dave said...

I found it best to take it a little at a time with that book. When I tried to take it all in I would always go back and start over some section.

Mallard T. Drake said...

I can appreciate your enthusiasm for The Five Lessons. From my experience though, it is very hard to learn golf from a book. You need to see the swing in motion to understand how the parts fit together. What you may want to do is also check out David Ledbetter's book where he reviews and analyzes Hogan's book. (Talk about some dry reading.) What I picked up from Ledbetter is that Hogan had to overcome a nasty hook and his swing is built around that. If you have different problems, then some of what Hogan is saying may not be appropriate.

I spent years trying to get the "swing" right, but have plateaued at a 12 handicap. I then heard another teacher put it this way: You don't hit the golf ball with the golf swing; you hit the golf ball with the golf club. I have been changing my focus from perfecting my swing to understanding how to make the club work as intended. The results are starting to show through.

Good luck with your game.

Golfchick said...

Not everyone can do what they can effectively teach. This I know from experience. Not everyone can teach what they can effectively do. It's pretty magical when these things combine. Sure, different techniques work for different people, but the five lessons in this book make so much sense as fundamentals and not specific to a particular swing type.
When the right words break through, lessons are learned. Certain words have that effect on a wider audience. There is a reason this book has been so successful for so long.

Thanks for your comments!