Bernie Najar

Golf Instruction

May 2019 Newsletter: Tour Player Hints and How to Video Your Swing

News: Clinic Time
It’s always fascinating to spend time with tour players. Last week, I had the chance to do an annual clinic that’s held here at Caves Valley with Billy Andrade, who has had a long and successful career on the PGA and PGA Champions tours. I had never really studied his swing before, but I had a feeling he worked on his mental game with Bob Rotella because of how close Bob and Billy’s good friend Brad Faxon are. It turns out that Billy and Brad couldn’t be more different, both in how they swing and how they approach instruction. Brad is a legendary tinkerer who has worked with dozens of teachers, while Billy has done it mostly on his own with some occasional looks from Craig Harmon and help from Rotella on his mental game.

One of the most interesting questions that came up from the students in the clinic was about Billy’s transition from playing on the tour to commentating for the window of time between the regular and senior tours. What were the common things he saw from the players who were coming down the stretch in the lead late on Sunday from the different perspective of walking with those groups instead of playing?

Billy said he was amazed at how often those players made stress-free pars. The first putt they had inevitably led to a tap-in, which meant they weren’t burning mental energy grinding on saving par. If you have good distance control on your putting, you’re always going to be in the mix on tour. If you’re on a par-5 in two or up around the green, it’s an automatic birdie. You’re not throwing away strokes. And that putting skill takes so much pressure off the rest of your game, because it ramps up your confidence that you can get out of a problem if you run into one. You can swing the driver and the irons more free.

Another big element in Billy’s talk was the importance of a routine. He said his routine is what helps him relax when he’s playing, because it’s something he can always go back to no matter the situation. He developed in kind of a funny way, from a tai chi expert he met at a photo shoot. The tai chi guy showed him how to use deep breathing, and to be more aware of his breath under pressure. The tendency for most players is to actually hold their breath when they’re nervous. By releasing it, you’re helping yourself get ready for the shot calmly. Billy said it was actually more important than the relative sharpness of his swing on a given day.

Coaching Case Study: Tommy Morrison

I really enjoy helping talented junior players develop their potential, and I’m fortunate to have one student where the sky is literally the limit. Tommy Morrison is “only” 14 years old, but he’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s already swinging the driver 120 miles per hour, and his game has developed to the point where he missed U.S. Open qualifying this month by a single shot. He’s already being heavily recruited by the best college teams. He’s going to be a great player—and he’s already a great person.

The challenge for Tommy as he’s grown (when I started with him at age 10, he was 5-foot-5!) is keeping up with the specifics of his carry distances. We’ve had to change his clubs four times in the last few years because of how tall he’s gotten, and the distances he carries the ball with each club have changed to go along with it. Even though he practices and plays all the time, the week before U.S. Open qualifying he played in an event where he was consistently six or seven yards off with his carry distances on each club. That’s a big deal, because the difference between hitting a shot 140 or 146 with a precision club like a short iron is the difference between having a good look at birdie and missing a green.

I took Tommy through his bag during our last practice session and had him start with lob wedge and work up to driver and back down again hitting six or eight balls with each club each time through. At the end, we tossed out the outliers—the extra long shots or the extra short ones—and figured out his carry distances precisely. He thought his pitching wedge was 144 carry, but it turned out to be 150 on the nose. Even if you don’t hit it as far as Tommy does (and not many people do), it’s a hugely valuable exercise to go through because you need to know that carry number for your clubs. Knowing you hit your 7-iron “around 150” isn’t nearly as helpful as knowing you usually carry it 138 yards and it rolls out between 10 and 15 yards. Now you know what you need to hit to carry an obstacle, as well as having a realistic idea of which club you need to pick under each circumstance.  

Tech Corner: Video Camera position
Everybody has a smartphone with a video camera in it—and it can be a great tool to get a look at your swing. But if you want relevant information, you need to take some easy steps to make sure you’re recording from the right spot.

To start, get a simple tripod or clip that attaches to your bag so you don’t need to rely on a friend to show up and do it. Next, you’re going to want to pick the angle that captures what you’re interested in seeing. If you want to look at your swing in terms of the plane of motion, you want to shoot the video where the camera behind you and shooting down toward the target. Set it up so that it’s about belt high, four feet off the ground or so, and down your stance line—not the ball line. That will frame your body and club and you won’t get a distorted view of how the club is traveling. An easy way to do it is to put a club down in front of your feet and center the camera on that line. From that angle, when you share it with your pro, you can get some good feedback.

To shoot face on—which is great for checking ball position, stance width, grip and how your body is moving—try to shoot with the camera relatively perpendicular to the target and square to your center line. The center of the chest is a good reference point. If you do that, you can always have the same frame of reference. Be sure to check both views, because they work together. So many good things happen when you’re set up ideally and consistently. It’s something tour players are working on all the time, and they’re hitting more balls than anyone. Ball position is the one thing that influences club path almost more than anything. If you want to draw or fade it and the ball isn’t in the right spot, you’re going to have a mess. The distance you are from the ball? That can throw off your angles, too.

Go out and give it a try and post your videos on Instagram with me tagged (@bernienajargolf). I’ll give you some feedback on what I see.

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