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 Dan Plan: putting the 10,000 hours of practice theory to the test

The Dan Plan: putting the 10,000 hours of practice theory to the test

6th green at Brighton & Hove golf course: are 10,000 hours of practice enough to become a great golfer?

Gratuitous photo of my gorgeous golf course

When I first started thinking about how I could reduce my handicap, I did some research on deliberate practice and came across The Dan Plan. Dan was an American photographer who, at age 30 and having never played golf in his life, decided to embark on an experiment. He wanted to see whether it was true that, with enough practice, anyone can achieve anything. His plan was to spend 10,000 hours practicing golf and go from non-golfer to professional. He reckoned that, at 4 to 6 hours a day, it would take him six years.

It took him 9 months to plan everything and 5 years to save enough money. Starting with putting on 5 April 2010, he worked out what professional proficiency means in every area and endeavoured to reach it. It took him five months to take his putting to the right level. Then he started practicing with a wedge. 18 months later, he swung a driver for the first time. After 20 months of practice, he played his first 18 hole round with a full set of clubs.

To cut a long story short, his handicap went as low as 2.6 on 1 June 2014, but then crept up to 5.5 on 1 April 2015… where the story ends. His last blog post was published on 23 November 2015, 11 months before he was supposed to reach 10,000 hours. It seems that a back injury put an end to his project, and now he sells soda.

Would he have reached his goal if he hadn’t got injured? We will never know, but Michael Hepp from The Sand Trap wrote an interesting Post Mortem on the Dan Plan. He’s particularly critical of his choice of “bouncing around instructors” and he says that there is no particular evidence that he did apply deliberate practice. That’s one trap most of us golfers have fallen into: when things go wrong, it’s so tempting to try and find the solution on YouTube and to follow anyone and everyone’s advice. And I know I find it difficult to concentrate fully while practicing.

So what does his experience mean for my goal of reaching a 12 handicap? First, stick with what Anthony’s teaching me, even if I find it difficult, as using different methods can only confuse things. Second, focus on precise areas of my game when I’m practicing instead of just hitting ball after ball without too much thought. Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of dedicating 10,000 hours to getting better at golf. However, what I’ll take from Dan’s experience is that to give myself the best chance of success, I’d better avoid getting distracted and stick to my own plan of one lesson on a specific area per week and practicing when I can. Oh and also, I need to look after my body and avoid injury at all cost, particularly when football season starts again in April. Time to buy new shin pads!

I decide to never ever practice again, then I change my mind

I decide to never ever practice again, then I change my mind

Practice session in front of Brighton & Hove clubhouse shrouded in fog

Who wants to practice in England in January?

Hitting a low

I reached the stage of hating myself, hating golf and hating Anthony (most of all) on Wednesday, five days after my first lesson. Instead of playing in our weekly competition, I stood on the practice ground on the most miserable, foggy, wet and cold day to practice the impossible takeaway. After two hours, I’d hit around 120 balls and they all went low and right. Every single one of them. Basically, it was a replay of my Sunday practice, but without the good half-hour.

Practice is pointless

After thinking about it, I concluded that I’m just terrible at practicing. I can’t do it. Standing on the practice ground doesn’t help me. Last year, I went on holiday to a lovely Sicilian golf resort with superb practice facilities. It was the perfect environment to practice my new love wedge. I could already hit it beautifully, so all I needed to do was work on controlling my distance. On the practice range, I was completely unable to hit it properly. I gave up and went to sulk in an orange grove.

Verdura resort clubhouse

Who wants to practice in Sicily in March?


That’s why I turned up for my lesson today determined to explain to Anthony that I’m just terrible at practicing and that he had to make me better without it. I was also considering forgetting all about my Great Captain’s Challenge so I could go back to loving myself and golf. As I was on the putting green waiting for Anthony to finish doing his hair, two chaps walked past and said “Read about your handicap project with Anthony. Brilliant idea. Good luck.” Then another one popped his head out of the conservatory to give me words of encouragement. That’s when I realised that it was too late to give up. And that is a very good lesson: to stick to a goal, there’s nothing better than accountability. Make your objective public, through the club newsletter in my case, so that everyone knows about it and holds you to it. I now had no choice. We had to find a way to improve.

Practice is essential

I explained to Anthony that practicing was pointless for me and I don’t think he was listening, because he took me to the practice range. He asked me to show him my take away and he declared it passable, so we could move on to the next stage of the backswing. Again, he was quite happy with my first efforts, but I still couldn’t hit the ball nicely. He told me that it was because I was still dipping my shoulder and lurching to the left. How to stop the lurching? With a Jedi trick. He stood at a 45 degree angle to my left and told me to imagine I wanted to hit him with the ball. He really knows how to motivate me. And it was a bit magic: I started hitting the ball really well, a bit too far to the left, but not really that much. How did it work? Well, there was no way I could have hit the ball behind me by lurching forward, so this simple mind trick helped my shoulders perform a better rotation and my torso to stay more stable.

Progress, finally

Hallelujah. So it turned out that practicing for hours on my take away was useful, as despite the bad shots, I have managed to make it quite consistent, which in turns means that my whole backswing follows a better plane. Add to that Anthony’s Jedi trick and everything came together nicely. I stayed on the practice ground after our lesson and hit nice ball after nice ball. Love is in the air again! Obviously, I know there will be more downs, but this felt like a massive achievement and, best of all, I’m allowed to play tomorrow, as long as I focus on practicing my new swing and NOT on scoring. And that is the best news I’ve had all week.


All I need now is to teach Anthony how to frame a video.

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.