Shawn responds to several questions from GolfChannel.com’s Equipment and Instruction Editor, David Allen, on teaching elite performers, big golfers, steep swings, left arm mistakes and a tip for weekend golf warriors.
BUMP and RUN: LEFT ARM DEBATE
By DAVID ALLEN
Equipment and Instruction Editor, GolfChannel.com
Posted: October 2, 2009
We know it’s difficult to find time to practice during the week. When a Saturday or Sunday tee time rolls around, you’re hoping to find some spark or productive swing thought that will help you break 100, 90, 80 or whatever your scoring goal may be.
With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q & A with some of the game’s top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed toward improving your game. This week it’s Shawn Humphries, director of instruction at Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas, and one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers.
Cowboys Golf Club is the first and only NFL-themed golf club, so it’s not unusual that some of Humphries’ past and present students have included star running backs (Emmitt Smith), quarterbacks (Troy Aikman and Tony Romo) and head coaches (Bill Parcells, Sean Payton, and Tony Sparano).
“When you work with people that are the elite at what they do, they understand what it takes to make changes,” said Humphries, who teaches in the summer out at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore. “Coach Parcells (now GM Parcells) is dealing with athletes all of the time, helping them change to get better. And he’s able to transfer that to his own golf game.”
To submit a question to Humphries or one of our teachers, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
You come across a lot of big, strong body types at Cowboys Golf Club. What challenges do these barrel-chested golfers present to you as an instructor?
Guys who are extremely barrel-chested, their arms can only reach so far; thus, they’re not able to create optimum width. When you start losing width it leads to a very steep, vertical swing. With Bill [Parcells], we had to work hard on getting the club to travel out away from his body on the backswing,round it out like a spiraling staircase. He used the term “flat as a pancake.” He wanted to get his swing as flat as he could, because the more vertical you get it, the flatter you have to route it on the way down.
How did you get him to flatten out his swing?
l had him practice the “15-10-5 Drill.” I had him set up to a ball with his 5- or 6-iron and then raise the club about 15 inches off the ground. From there, I’d ask him to imagine a tee and a ball at 15 inches and take a practice swing on that level. Then he’d go to 10 inches, then 5, then down to a tee, but not the ground. He’d hit the ball off the tee. He would continue this process over and over again until he started shallowing out the golf club. This would allow him to square the clubface at impact and hit a bit of a draw. Once he got efficient off the tee, I’d have him swing down to the ground.
Speaking of width, a lot of amateurs have the wrong concept of what it is. How would you define width?
In a nutshell, it’s the distance from the end of the club to your sternum as you turn back in your swing. It’s actually a radius. A lot of people pull the right arm in and extend the left arm out to get width, which is one of the worst things you can do. It’s both arms maintaining width, just not the left arm.
Why is it a bad idea to keep your left arm straight on the backswing?
If someone tells you to straighten your left arm on the backswing, what’s the first thing you do? You press with the pad of your left hand. What that does is cup the hand, which opens the face. Plus, you create so much tension with the arms. What you want to do is get your shoulders to turn with your arms in a relaxed position, not tight, maintaining the same width you started with at address. A soft arm allows you to keep the back, or bridge, of your left hand flat and in line with your wrist, so you can hinge the club up properly and keep the face square.
Is there a good drill or two to help you create width on your backswing?
Set up as normal and bring your arms directly in front of your body so they’re parallel to the ground, and the club is perpendicular to you, forming an L. Then turn your back to the target so your left shoulder swings past the ball. Rotate your core, chest and arms back together. This gets you to focus on turning your core instead of your arms. Another one is to take your right hand off the club and rest it on your right thigh, leaving only your left hand on the club. Turn back like you’re rotating back on your backswing. This really gets your core and left side to turn and open up, creating a nice radius to your swing.
Any advice for the weekend warrior? Something that may help them drop a shot or two during their Saturday or Sunday round?
The easiest thing to do is head down to the practice green and hit putts across the green from one edge to the next. A lot of people will drop balls down at five and 10 feet, and hit a few putts. The next thing they know they’re on the first green, 35 feet from the hole, and they have no idea what the speed is. I recommend putting a couple of tees down on the far side of the green and a few on the other side, and putt back and forth, trying to lag the ball to the edge of the green. That will give you an idea what the speed is.
One of our readers writes in: I have a tendency to hang back and hit off my rear foot. Do you have any advice to help me get my weight shifted onto my front foot on the downswing?
If a player hangs back on their right foot, it’s not because of an improper weight shift. It’s a byproduct of the club swinging over the top, from right to left, on the downswing. The club gets angled to the left and you have to pull back. If you struggle with hanging back, have the feeling that you’re trying to hit the ball to right field or down the first-base line. Wherever you set up, pick an intermediate target that’s about 40 yards right of your actual target, and direct your energy there. That will allow the club to swing down more from the inside, which will help you to release the club, pulling you over to your left side.