Ask the Top 100: Why is my swing better on the driving range?

Dear TJ,I'm a driving-range star. My drivers from the mat are long and magnificent, irons are crisp and dialed-in, wedges are high or low as needed. I figure I'm at least a 10-12 handicapper. But on the golf course you'd think I've never played in my life. It's flat-out ugly. I actually whiff on the tee box. I'm constantly topping and sculling. When I do make contact it's a dead pull (on the range I'm either dead straight or a high fade). I know it's all in my head, but I don't know what to do about it. Tim T., West Palm Beach, Fla. Dear Star,It sounds to me like you're trying to play the game the way you learned it. Most golfers spend a certain amount of time learning the mechanics (grip, takeaway, weight shift etc.) on the driving range then focus on those mechanics while they play. That's where the trouble starts because golf is not played the same way it's learned.
You learn on the practice tee by focusing on parts of your swing -- one part at a time. But when you play the game on the course, you must put aside the parts and focus on the target. You can do this in a number of ways. Some players picture the target; some picture the flight of the ball; some talk themselves through the shot ("I'm going to hit a low cut off the corner of the left bunker"); others feel the shot. Asked how he hit a draw, Sam Sneed said "I think draw."
No matter how you focus, your image of the target should be clear and distinct, without any glitches. Your image is composed of information, feelings and sounds, and this image will select the correct technique from the complicated queue of templates that store your motor skills.
If you have practiced the technique to hit the draw and the target says "draw" to you, then the backflow from the target to the brain picks the technique automatically. Snead "thought draw," but he had to have the technique entrained before his thinking makes it so.
In any case most players use the technique to force the ball into the target without an image. The problem is that without an image to act as an intermediary, the technique gets muddled -- you're all technique and no image, or as legendary teacher Chuck Hogan says "you're playing golf swing not golf."
Having given many playing lessons, I find that most players, under the stress of playing, revert to image-less swing mechanics. That's the reason they're only at home on the driving range.
Star, to get the most out of your game memorize this answer -- or you could just watch Ty Webb in Caddyshack. He gets it. Dear TJ,I had surgery on my rotator cuff and collar in February. I have been playing pretty well, but suffer pain after each round. I have started bending my left arm to take pressure off my shoulder. It helps. Do you have other advice to lessen stress on my shoulder while still playing once a week. BTW, I'm 58 and shoot in the mid-90s and want to get to the 80s again like I did before my shoulder problem.Ernie B., via e-mail Dear EBC,I'm going to call you "Ernie B. Careful" because that's what you should be: Careful! But since you read the best golf magazine around, I know you're sharp enough to have called you doctor and told him that it hurts when you swing. And he told you not to worry because your shoulder is as good as new and the pain is just from recovery and not a sign that you're doing damage. Taking that as a given, here's how to minimize the pain.
Your shoulder can extend, like when you reach for something without moving the spine. It can also rotate with your spine without extending. It's the extension that's problematic for you. To limit extension and still rotate, anchor your left arm to the top of your chest like it was Velcro. Make sure your left arm only moves with your chest turn, that is, that your shoulder rotates but doesn't extend away from you. Basically your left arm has no motion on its own. And don't try for a high swing -- keep the left arm low and under the shoulder line. Remember I'm not an M.D., but I did spend last night at a Holiday Inn Express, and I'm feeling really good. Dear TJ,I just started to play golf recently and I have the classic 'over the top' move. Every time I try to swing from the inside, I get stuck on the downswing and hit a push to the right. Can you give me any drills that will help me feel the correct swing plane? Jackson P.,  Navasota, Texas Hey JP,How's this for synchronicity -- one of my favorite students is also a "JP" and -- would you believe it? -- he had exactly the same problem as you do when he came on board. But as quick as you can say "slice be gone," it was. In the teaching business, not being able to cure a slice is a one-way ticket to Palookaville, aka having to get a real job.
Here's the fix: Keep swinging from the inside - you're not stuck, you're just not doing the "other thing" good players do in addition to coming at the ball slightly from the inside - namely rotating your forearms.
But here's the problem everyone grapples with regarding forearm rotation: The ball is seven yards down the fairway before the brain registers impact. You see, we don't live in "real time" - in other words, it takes time to process the experience. So when you think you're doing something and when you are actually doing it, is often different. Thus like the Mad Hatter, most golfers are always late - "for a very important date" - and that would be impact. You may think you're rotating your forearms in plenty of time to square the face but you're being fooled.
To time your rotation correctly you've got to re-fool yourself and start the process "too early." You may over-hook a few at first, but you'll be able to adjust after a dozen tries or so. As soon as you can hook it you're home free.
Here's a pictorial of the re-fooling process ending in a slight draw. Note that the face is pointing to the sky and then to the ground all by virtue of rotation. Actually virtue has nothing to do with this - it's pure rotation! Top100_500

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher T. J. Tomasi, Ph.D., a Class A PGA professional, teaches at the Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts. You can learn more about T.J. at www.tjtomasi.com

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