My right hand is too weak, so Anthony decides I should try the baseball grip

My right hand is too weak, so Anthony decides I should try the baseball grip

Friday had started so well. The sun was shining and I had a weekend of golf and friends to look forward to.

Then I had my weekly lesson with Anthony.

“How’s your golf?” He asked. “Great! I played well in Portugal and I feel like my swing is comfortable and consistent. I even won the foursomes competition on Wednesday.” “Excellent”, he said. “Let’s go to the net with the swing analyzer. We’ll measure how far your clubs go.”

And the nightmare started. Ball after ball started flying right. It was horrible. Puzzled, Anthony had a look at my grip and noticed that it was too weak. It’s an old problem: my right hand is turned too far to the left. I keep trying to place it in a better position, more to the right, but it just isn’t comfortable and it ends up going around again.

“Your hands are very small. Maybe the baseball grip would help you keep the right hand in the right position,” he said. “I’ll try anything to make the pain stop,” I replied.

I hit a few balls with the baseball (also called 10 finger) grip and it was a disaster. My shots were all over the place. It felt like the club had acquired a mind of its own, and it was the mind of a tantrumy 2 year old. However, when we looked at the data on the machine, one measure stood out: my clubhead speed was much higher than with my usual interlocking grip. This meant that if I could learn to master it, I would gain lots of distance. And I liked the sound of that.

Peanut butter M&Ms to survive the change of grip

I felt so down after my lesson that I had to have crisis peanut butter M&Ms

Long story short: it felt completely wrong at first, but I persisted. Then I developed a blister on my pinky because of the change of position. Went whimpering into the office and Lindsay gave me a plaster. Walked back out to practice on the driving range and started getting to grips with it. It feels like I’ve taken a few steps backwards, but if it means it’s the only way I’ll get used to the grip that best suits my tiny Trump hands, so be it.

I had a look online to learn about the pros and cons of interlocking, overlapping, neutral, weak, strong and baseball grips. What I concluded is that there is no real consensus over any of it, because so much depends on the swing itself. Just check out this amazingly detailed review of the golf grip. The amount of research that went into it is impressive, but reading these types of articles just confuses me. I did enjoy reading this six page thread on experimenting with the baseball grip, though.

My conclusion? I will carry on trying to master the baseball grip because it does feel more comfortable and my clubhead speed is much higher. I also need to accept that the process of becoming a better golfer is anything but linear. Five steps forward, ten backwards. And blisters.

I develop a slice and Anthony helps me fix it

I develop a slice and Anthony helps me fix it

Anthony tells me to rotate my torso

He is not worthy

I don’t practice enough so I acquire a slice

It was my first lesson after a two weeks break yesterday and Anthony was cold so I let him have my beloved France hat, bought at Murrayfield in 2000 (Scotland 16 – 28 France). After a few blissful rounds of decent, consistent golf, I had started slicing the ball and struggling with my irons again. Anthony said that the slice issue was because I hadn’t practiced enough and so my old swing was creeping back in and making a mess of everything.

I wasn’t in a great mood and this made things worse. What do you mean, the slice is my fault? My swing feels disjointed and clunky for no reason whatsoever! And I did practice a little bit. We started working on the takeaway again, but despite some improvement, my swing still felt rushed and unbalanced. I played slice after slice. It was one of those lessons where nothing he said made any sense to me.

Start the downswing by imagining my torso is rotating

After a frustrating 45 minutes, I was still hitting the ball badly despite getting my backswing back to where it should be. Anthony asked me what part of my body moved first at the start of my downswing. My hips, I answered. He advised me to imagine that my torso initiated the movement by turning towards my target. And I have no idea how or why, but that helped a bit. My swing felt a lot more compact and fluid and I started hitting the ball better. Anthony suggested that I practice this with a pitching wedge and a half-swing.

So off he went to warm up in his office and I stayed on the practice ground, fully expecting more misery and frustration. Instead, I progressively started hitting the ball cleanly, solely by picturing my torso turning at the beginning of the downswing. What would happen if I hit it with a full swing, I wondered? By focusing on keeping my clubhead open during my takeaway, then pausing slightly at the top and then initiating the downswing by turning my torso, I started hitting good shots.


Imagine all the good shots

Trying to get rid of my slice on the course

Tell me, how could I resist going out there to play a few holes?

After a while, I decided I deserved to test my improved swing on the course, so I went out to play four holes. The result: not one slice and a marked improvement. Rotating my torso first meant that my swing felt much more compact and together. It was also a lot smoother. I find it quite interesting that, since we started, we managed to overcome two obstacles not by dissecting my technique, but by using my imagination. Degrees and angles and planes don’t mean anything to me. I find it much easier to implement a technique tweak if I’m told “Imagine that you…”. This is what worked before when I got intensely frustrated and Anthony told me to imagine I wanted to hit him with the ball. Basically, Anthony is the John Lennon of golf.

First qualifying round this week

This is badly needed, as I have my first qualifying round on Wednesday. I’m not expecting a handicap cut just yet, as I’m still obviously getting to grips with my new swing, but I’d like to play to my handicap. I’m playing tomorrow, so I’ll focus on what I learnt today and hopefully it will stick. And I’ll dig out my old John Lennon records.


Swing update: getting there with the backswing and tweaking the clubface

Swing update: getting there with the backswing and tweaking the clubface

Yesterday was my third lesson with Anthony. He said: “Let’s go and play four holes so I can see what’s happening with your swing.” Hurrah! So off I went trotting after him. He has long legs. I do not.

Satellite view of the 3rd hole at Brighton & Hove golf course: opening my clubface feels like I'm aiming at the wrong golf course

Aiming at the wrong golf course

My clubface is too closed

We started playing and I seemed to be hitting the ball well. Anthony was nodding a lot, which is good. Then on the third (par 3), my shot went left. I told Anthony that this seemed to be happening much more regularly with my new swing. He said it was because my clubface was too closed when I took my stance. He opened it up and it looked to me like I was aiming for Waterhall Golf Club (i.e. far too right, see illustration). That wasn’t going to work. With a rueful smile and a tiny shake of the head, I lined up as he said and… the ball soared over the pond, landed just in front of the green and rolled to within two feet of the hole (I missed the birdie putt, obvs). I was stunned. Anthony explained why that was and I didn’t really get it, but basically it has to do with my new improved backswing. Anyway, he looked smug.

Opening my clubface works!

On the next hole, a par 4, I took my stance with the clubface slightly more open and it took me a couple of tries to get it right with the driver. Then my second shot from 165 yards finished three feet from the hole (guess what happened next). “Why didn’t you tell me about the clubface thing before?” I asked. “You weren’t ready. There were other things to correct first.” Now the obvious question is “What else is he keeping from me?”. Best not to ask any more questions at this stage.

The plan for the next couple of weeks

Anthony is going away for a couple of weeks, so he wants me to play! Yes, play! He asked me to pay special attention to my clubface when I take my stance and to carry on working on my takeaway. Also, at the end of the two weeks, he wants me to rank the areas of my game again so we can compare them to the list I drew before we started our lessons. This will help us determine how to proceed. Fine. Anything as long as I can play with my buddies.

Cup of tea and biscuits after working on opening my clubface

Après l’effort, le réconfort.

On the way back to the clubhouse, I asked him whether I should spend some time practicing now. “No, he said. Too windy.” “Are you saying that I should go home and spend the afternoon eating biscuits?” “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You deserve it.” I dutifully headed home and followed my orders.

Today, I’ve been out and tried to practice what I learnt yesterday. It worked! Well, most of the time. My new swing feels really great, balanced, fluid and compact, and as a result, my long game was unusually consistent. One month into my challenge, I’m feeling pretty good about it! Mind you, it’s hard not to feel good after spending most of your day playing in the South Downs National Park.


The first lesson: improving my swing by working on my takeaway

The first lesson: improving my swing by working on my takeaway

I arrived at the club for my first lesson, and Anthony said: “I’m warning you. During the next couple of months, you’re going to hate me, you’re going to hate golf and you’re going to hate yourself.”

I replied: “I could never hate myself or golf, Anthony.”

We previously agreed that my long game was a problem and so my swing needed looking at. Fortunately, my grip was ok, but my takeaway was not. Instead of turning my shoulders, I dip the left one, which means that the club face is too closed, the club gets stuck behind me and I have to lurch to the left and back to make the swing happen. This explains why I’m normally unbalanced at the end of it.

So we practiced the takeaway for about an hour together. It’s a short movement of the club head along a specific plane, which sounds simple, but is in fact incredibly difficult, as your muscle memory takes over and wants to do what it’s used to doing. Then I practiced on my own for 50 minutes until I got frostbite. The idea was to go from this:









to this:

Anthony's takeaway with clubhead pointing up - side view Anthony's takeaway with clubhead pointing up - front view









It wasn’t too bad! After an hour and a half, I gained some consistency. The real problem, however, is that Anthony thinks that for the new technique to really bed in and my muscle memory to completely forget the old swing, I need to practice a lot (this article on practice and muscle memory suggests that, unfortunately, he’s right). And not play. At all. So I’m going to be a good golfer and do just that. Instead of playing with my buddies tomorrow, I shall stand on the frozen practice ground and sob hit ball after ball until dippy shoulders are a distant memory. On Wednesday, I’ll go to the club, but instead of playing in the competition, I’ll practice some more.

I’m not yet hating anything or anyone, but I can see how it could happen…

Sunday night update

I thought I’d edit this post to report on my progress as a non-playing, all-practicing golfer. It’s hell. I’m under strict orders to practice my takeaway: start the backswing along the line of my feet; stop and make sure the clubhead faces up (see photos above); do that a few times. Then try and hit the ball cleanly. That’s what I did for three hours yesterday and an hour today instead of playing, as I normally would. Sometimes it worked, more often than not it didn’t. I could feel the disconnect between how my brain is used to directing my arms and shoulders and the different movement my limbs were trying to replicate. It was intensely frustrating at times, but today I had a very good last half-hour, where I felt like all the different parts of my body were actually working together nicely, with no arguments. So there is hope!

It’s only when I watched this video taken at the end of today’s session that I realised my hands went far too high. Was it all in vain? We’ll know when I next see Anthony on Wednesday.