The Third Lesson – Loosen Up and Cock the Wrist

Luckily, my local practice range is one of the top instructional and club-fitting facilities in the country.

Luckily, my local practice range is one of the top instructional and club-fitting facilities in the country.

I actually took my third golf lesson before leaving for Hilton Head, but completing my workload before bailing out-of-town prevented me from getting a column about it posted. The third lesson built upon the first two of course, and luckily didn’t leave me completely helpless once I made it to the golf courses down South.

The first lesson was mastered, for the time being.  I had the setup and posture handled, which meant setting up with good tilt away from the target at address, feet square to the target line just outside shoulder width, hands low, weight fairly even.  After several weeks, it was beginning to feel more natural.

My second lesson was firmly implanted in my mind and was beginning to take hold in my body.  I was eons way from conquering the old, bad muscle memory, but at least I was tilting to the correct side of the meridian on the takeaway.  Mike (my golf professional) used the video monitor to illustrate that I’d made about a 15 degree improvement from where I was initially.

If only I could keep this kind of posture and body positioning.  Sigh.

If only I could keep this kind of posture and body positioning. Sigh.

So, everything was darn good the first quarter of the backswing.  Mike, naturally, wanted to see even more tilt, but he was happy with the progress we’d made thus far.

Sun Tzu wrote that in war, it is important to know thy enemy and know thyself.  Unfortunately, in this battle against 15+ years of bad habits, I am my own worst enemy.

In this case, my enemy was that I was way too stiff, and the problems this caused were three-headed: 1) my left arm was completely locked throughout my swing, 2) I almost failed to cock my wrist on the way back, and 3) my backswing was entirely too long.

We have discovered your fatal flaw. – Mike, my golf professional

Loosen my left elbow. Somewhere along the way I had “learned” that I had to keep my left arm straight on the backswing. This is probably from my misinterpretation of Hogan’s Five Lessons. My golf pro was the first one that ever told me that Hogan retracted that particular aspect of Five Lessons years later, and Sports Illustrated conveniently forgot to print a retraction.

Somehow, I had used this illustration to justify maintaining a perfectly locked left elbow (and sometimes wrist) instead of developing an actual golf swing.

Somehow, I had used this illustration to justify maintaining a perfectly locked left elbow (and sometimes wrist) instead of developing an actual golf swing.

If some is good, more is better. That kind of thinking allowed me to develop the firm habit of completely locking my left elbow.  Religiously. To the point that I suffered mild elbow tendonitis after each round of golf or range session.  I’d gotten so good at it, that it kept me from loading the club with a full wrist cock on the way back.  My backswing bore zero resemblance to the illustration of Ben Hogan on the right.

Fully cock my wrist during the takeaway. When my arms reach parallel to the ground on the backswing, Mike wants my wrist cocked to the point that the club at least forms a right angle with my arms.  According to the video, I’m consistently between 55 and 75 degrees on the way back.  So, in addition to everything else I’ve learned, I have something new to consciously work on.

Shorten the backswing.  Luckily, if I can take care of these first two points and I am leaning into the backswing correctly, the length of my swing takes care of itself.  In other words, if I am tilting away from the target sufficiently, I won’t be able to wrap my locked arms and hands around my head to take the club too far back and end up in a stack and tilt posture. Like I have been doing literally forever.

I’m certain that my next lesson will be spent re-learning everything I forgot while on vacation.  I know for a fact that my swing during my 6th round of golf on Hilton Head looked and felt very little like what it did during my first two or three rounds.

But that’s okay.  I was able to play some pretty decent golf, by my standards, despite being in the middle of a swing change, probably because I resolved to just go out and play golf, rather than get too wrapped up on the mechanics.  And those firm, fast greens on Hilton Head meant that scoring was all about my chipping and putting anyway.

This is going to be a process, and I knew that from the beginning.  I just hope I can keep the re-learning to a minimum and continue to incorporate more of the lessons on the course going forward.  Like General Patton, I hate paying for the same real estate twice.

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