Instruction

Four big leaguers show how baseball skills translate into big drives and low scores

Photo: Angus Murray

From left to right: Paul O'Neill, Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey Jr. and John Smoltz.

PAUL O'NEILL
Reds, Yankees
MLB seasons: 17
Career numbers: .288 avg., 281 home runs, 2,105 hits
All-Star teams: 5
Handicap: 9
Golf talk: "I won the long-drive competition at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe with a 357-yard bomb. It was fun."

Get it Right at the Top
The Fault
When I played baseball, I tried to make a level or slightly descending swing most of the time. That placed my left elbow (the right elbow for righties) in a high, flying position. I see this frequently in golfers I play with and it makes it hard to get the club in a good position on the downswing. The typical result is poor impact and weak shots.

The Fix
I always think "fold" at the top of the backswing to get my left elbow tucked into the proper position and keep it from flying too high. When I do this it's easy for me to make a confident downswing because I know the club will come down on the proper plane. Try it for yourself if you're not making solid contact.

MIKE PIAZZA
Dodgers, Mets, and others.
MLB seasons: 16
Career numbers: .308 avg., 427 home runs, 2,127 hits
All-Star teams: 12
Handicap: 14
Golf talk: "I once flew the ball into the hole on a 310-yard dogleg right par-4. It was easily the best shot I've ever hit in my life."

Whip it Good
The Fault
I've had my clubhead speed measured when I'm swinging well and it's well over the PGA Tour average. But when I'm not swinging as well I feel myself trying to hit at the ball too much, which is a mistake a lot of amateur players make.

The Fix
Instead of trying to swing the club down with a strong, hitting motion, I think about creating a lot of whip action down into the ball. If you think about swinging the club fast instead of trying to hit at the ball you'll get a lot more clubhead speed. In the picture you can see I've got a lot of energy stored up as I approach impact. That's the key to distance.

KEN GRIFFEY JR.
Mariners, Reds, White Sox
MLB seasons: 21 (and counting)
Career numbers: .285 avg., 630 home runs, 2,762 hits
All-Star teams: 13
Handicap: 8
Golf talk: "I didn't start playing golf until '94, when the strike cut the season short. Never having played as a kid definitely makes it a challenge."

Extend to Go Deep
The Fault
Baseball and golf have a lot of things in common, including the fact that players in both games love hitting for power. However, in both sports, trying to do so strictly with muscle strength doesn't work very well. In fact, I see a lot of guys in both baseball and golf struggle when they try to swing with tight arms.

The Fix
My key to going deep on the course is to take a long, low backswing that lets me get both arms fully extended. Folding your arms too early in the backswing is a mistake. If you want more power, think about achieving full extension on both sides of the ball. If your arms are tense in either place you'll lose speed and power.

JOHN SMOLTZ
Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals
MLB seasons: 21 (and counting)
Career numbers: 213 wins, 154 saves, 3,084 strikeouts, 3.33 ERA
All-Star Teams: 8
Handicap: 0
Golf talk: "I'm serious about trying to play the Champions Tour. It will obviously be a huge challenge, but I don't have a problem with that."

Visualize the Target
The Fault
One of the biggest challenges on the mound, and on the golf course, is proper aim. We've all hit solid shots that miss the target because our alignment was poor, which is often due to a lack of focus.

The Fix
When I'm pitching I always focus hard on my target before I go into my windup. I recommend doing the same thing in your preshot routine. Lock in on your target before you assume your setup, and then again right before you start your swing. Keep the image clearly in your mind and you'll throw strikes every time.

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