Bernie Najar

Golf Instruction

April 2019 Newsletter: Learning from the Masters and a Lesson with a Legend


News: Watching the Masters from a Different Perspective
One of the great benefits of being a PGA member is that Augusta National offers teachers a chance to go watch the Masters simply by showing their credentials. It’s a perk I’ve taken advantage of every year since 2005. Watching the golf is entertaining from a fan perspective, but I also have a very specific purpose every time I go. I bring my camera, and I spend at least one day photographing players and their swings and practice routines. You can learn so much from the variety of swings out on tour, but capturing practice routines around the short game area and practice range gives great insight on the difference between working on skills and preparing for an event. I’ve spent hours watching players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do everything from hit drivers to play a variety of flop shots from the super tight lies they have at Augusta National.

As good as high definition television has gotten at showing the tournament, being right next to the players and seeing what they do gives you a greater appreciation for just how good they are—and how hard the golf course is. Watching Tiger Woods two-putt from a downhill position on the 9th hole was amazing to watch on the Sunday telecast, but when you see that green in real life and can get a full appreciation for the speed and slope, it’s truly incredible what he was able to do. It also reminds me of an important point I make to my students when we’re talking about course management. There are plenty of times when the best position to be around the green ISN’T on the green. In Tiger’s case, for example, he would have had an easier up-and-down from the fringe below the hole, even from farther away and a position where he needed to chip.

Just by understanding where the most dangerous places are on a given hole, you give yourself a much better chance of avoiding a big number. Think about the course you play most regularly. Do you ever go out and play a practice round like the tour players do, where you’re thinking more about playing shots from the areas that give you trouble instead of posting a score? Maybe there’s a long par-3 that you always miss short and right. What kinds of shots do you need to practice from that miss location so you have a better chance at getting up and down? Those are the kinds of things you see tour players doing religiously early in the week—getting ready for situations, not grinding away on improving a skill.

Coaching Case Study: Cal Ripken Jr.
When I got back home from the Masters on Tuesday night, I was looking forward to a lesson I had coming up with baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. I had met Cal before, but we had never worked together. He was coming in for an early-season assessment of his game and his gear. What a pleasure it was to spend some time with somebody who is both a nice guy and an impressive player. Watching Cal warm up, it was easy to see that he has the natural cadence and quality of movement you get by being a world class athlete your entire life. He’s a big, powerful guy, and even though his swing has a lot of the baseball movement pattern in it (obviously), he understood what elements of his swing made the ball do what he wanted. We talked a lot about the differences between being able to measure a swing with technology like TrackMan or Swing Catalyst and actually being able to do the things you’re working on improving in your swing when it comes time to post a score.

Using Swing Catalyst, we measured Cal’s baseball swing to get an understanding of how he used ground forces to create torque and speed. He was fascinated by the results, and said they reinforced what he felt when he was swinging the bat well vs. when he was hitting poorly. When he was struggling, he said he felt like he’d get the bat wrapped around his head and he couldn’t get it moving fast to the ball. I told him he had the same pattern in his golf swing. When he hit poor shots, it was usually because his lead wrist was extending too much in the backswing—or bending upward. Once he got that wrist into more extension and the feeling that he was creating more stretch in transition—pressuring his left pec with his bicep—he immediately picked up 20 yards. The ability to connect what he did in baseball to his golf swing really made the advice resonate with him, and got him excited about working on it. Even if you aren’t a baseball player like Cal (and who is?), you can take a cue from him and try to incorporate some of the dynamic movements of other activities you like in your quest for improving your golf swing. If you like to go bass fishing, bowl, dance or shoot a basketball, you can get better at swinging a club by incorporating some of those thoughts into your game. I’ll have a video on this subject later in the summer.

Tech Corner: The Difference Between 2D and 3D
If you spent any time watching the Masters telecast, you probably saw the biomechanical “model” they used to show some players hitting shots on the practice range. It was an interesting way to give a more 3D look at the golf swing than the traditional 2D view you’d get from watching a standard video replay. Video is fine for what it is, but you’re usually looking at a swing from face on or down the line—which limits the information you can get. When you add tools like the K-Vest system I have in my studio, you can see the real relationship between the parts of the body, and between the body and the club. It starts to reveal the actual “why” behind a smaller player like Rory McIlroy being able to hit the ball so far. At the top of this newsletter is a photo I took of Rory at the Masters from slightly to the side of true down the line. It shows part of what I’m talking about—that he has his hips turned dramatically toward the target by the time he gets to impact—but 3D can give you the actual measurements and sequencing of that move and how it works with the rest of his swing.

A great thing about CBS trying out those new graphics is that it extends the trend of getting golf fans more comfortable with data and the measurement of swings. TrackMan and Foresight machines use radar and cameras respectively to measure what the ball is doing. Now we know exactly how fast, high and far the ball goes, and you can use what the tour players are doing on television as a basis of comparison for your game. For example, Rory might hit his 7-iron 190 yards, and it reaches a peak of 120 feet in height. You can get the same kind of feedback on your game. The point isn’t so much to feel bad because you aren’t as explosive as a tour player—because almost none of us are!—but to get a benchmark for what you’re doing so that you can measure your improvement. Better measurements are also a massive help for clubfitting. Just by understanding what makes the ball spin, you can get 25 more yards out of your driver by switching to a shaft that works better with your swing.

One limitation on 3D is that you need to go to a studio and get measured by a teacher that has the appropriate equipment. That leaves a lot of players trying to use their smartphone to capture a 2D image as best they can. You can learn some interesting things from videoing your swing—which will be the subject of another newsletter down the line. I’ll leave you with a couple of pieces of advice so you can mess with it before we get to it. The first is to be aware of the distortions that can happen when you don’t film from a very specific angle. Instead of using video to evaluate and change things like swing path, angle of attack and even ball position—which are either impossible to see in 2D or subject to distortion depending on the angle you film—use the full speed video on your phone to capture your swing from the angle halfway between face on and down the line to match the feels you have in your swing with what you see. Are you in synch, or making a lot of extra moves? One big downside to shooting with the super slow motion video you can find on new smartphones is that slow motion disconnects what you’re doing with the natural rhythm of the swing. It can get you fixated on fixing a problem that might not even be the main thing separating you from a more effective swing.

To learn more about your game in 3D, you can always come by the Caves Valley Performance Center for an assessment. We’ve got K-Vest, TrackMan, Foresight and Swing Catalyst all working together to get your swing and your equipment tuned the way they should be. Click here to schedule an appointment.