Finding Your Comfort Zone
Jim Awad, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Instruction Feature

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | 4:09 p.m.

I'm standing on the tee, driver in one hand, ball and tee in the other. I start telling my playing partners a funny story. I turn, briefly glance out over the hole and bend to press the tee into the ground. The tale continues. I address the ball -- still recanting the story. I pause for just a second or two as I firm up my stance and grip, tilt my upper body away from the target and swing away. As the ball flies from the tee straight and long, I need not watch it. I turn back to my group and deliver the punch line. I'm in my Comfort Zone.

Finding your comfort zone leads to confidence, determination and better scores. Bobby Jones once said "If I have just two swing thoughts in my head, I have no chance of hitting the ball. If I have but one thought in my head, I have half a chance. If I have no thoughts in my head; then I can play like Bobby Jones".

Each individual has such a 'comfort zone'. For some it's as simple as playing with a group of good friends. For others, It could be finally arriving at that special hole on your favorite course that just lends itself to your game and has surrendered more than its' share of birdies. That feeling...The wave of confidence that you feel on that tee has brought you into your comfort zone. You may even have struggled over the last few holes, but all that fades away. You see the shape of your tee shot as you play the hole in your mind while you take the tee. Hello old friend...Here I come.

Start from the Beginning

When asked to write on this subject many things came to mind. The first was does your equipment fit you correctly? I'd wager more than half of my students arrive at their first lesson with ill-fitting clubs. Many were 'custom fit,' but in some cases that was several years ago, or the 'specs' were flat-out wrong to begin with. Odds are such a fitting wasn't done by a certified professional club fitter. Some were fit specifically to correct egregious swing faults. After these swing flaws are corrected through lessons and a lot of hard work on your part or your swing has become more confident and aggressive with experience (or slower and less powerful with age) those 'specs' -- or even the clubs themselves -- may no longer be appropriate for your level or style of play. Ill fitting clubs affect the ability to assume a bio-mechanically correct and athletic posture. If you aren't confident and in a good position to even begin the golf swing, how can you ever be "comfortable"?

The game is hard enough to play without your equipment adding to the difficulty. Slick or worn grips are equally devastating. Sam Sneed suggested gripping the club as if you were holding a small bird. Ever the gentlemen, Bobby Jones suggested one should grip the club "no firmer than you'd shake a lady's hand". How can you do that when you're squeezing the club tight enough to prevent it from sailing down the fairway after the ball?

If you've never been fit for your clubs, visit your local PGA Professional and schedule an equipment evaluation. This will involve both static (standing still) measurements, and dynamic (swinging the club) testing to determine if the shaft flex is appropriate and the lie angle of your irons is correct. At novogolf we begin each fitting session with an interview and solicit as much relevant information about the golfer as we can. If you're not asked, be sure to let the clubfitter know if you have any back problems. Hip or knee (replacements or pain) should also be brought up at this time. If you've never received professional instruction for these issues you may in fact be creating or aggravating them with a poor set up or incorrect body movement. At the fitting a knowledgeable professional should show you some simple changes to your posture, stance and swing mechanics that can relieve stress on the back or other joints. If I feel these changes are significant and once implemented will ultimately affect the final fitting specs, I let the client know they would be better off returning after a few practice sessions or 'official' lessons to adapt to the changes and rebook the fitting once they're at least comfortable with the newly modified swing. If the changes are minor, a good club fitting can still be done with a "little room to grow" into the new swing. The final lie angle adjustments can always be tweaked later with most quality irons at a good Proshop.

With the cost of drivers today, and the wide array of outstanding shafts available, all driver fittings should be done with a launch monitor. Outdoor fittings are indeed more accurate. The Trackman Launch Monitor can actually lock onto your ball and follow it out past 300 yards. The data gathered is amazing. In many cases people can gain as much as twenty to thirty yards more distance and forty percent less dispersion with the right combination of shaft and club head.

If you've ever bought more than one driver in a year that felt great hitting into a net, but didn't work so well in the field, don't buy your next one without using this technology. Interchangeable shafts and heads are the big buzz for this season. How would you know if buying a second shaft is worth the extra expense without an accurate launch monitor fitting? I wouldn't want to pay for a second shaft that produces essentially the same results....

Hand, elbow and wrist pain can be attributed to poor hitting mechanics, but even chronic pain such as carpal tunnel, arthritis or peripheral neuropathy can at least be eased somewhat by selecting graphite shafts, or quality steel shafts with shock reducing technology. Having the correct size grip and using specialized new products is also very effective. The Sting Free Grip, the Iomic Grip and the Bionic Glove have all proved highly effective for my clients with hand and wrist pain.

A golf swing that is tailored to protect your physical limitations and capitalize on your strengths will be more efficient and easier to repeat. Stop killing yourself to meet an unreasonable ideal. Forget the 'book' and focus on the absolutes: The Ball Flight Laws. The path of the club on its way to the ball and the angle of the face at impact are all that really matter. Do you need to be right 'on plane'? No. You just don't want to be above the plane, or outside it. Can -- or better yet -- should a recreational player really try to swing without letting the head drift a little? Probably not. It's unnatural and hard on your back. My best tip is to follow the advice of Ernest Jones; relax, and "swing the club head".

Eliminate Tension.

The most important thing to begin to feel is that the hands and fingers control the club. Swing the club head, not the handle. If you set up with a wide enough stance and tilt the head and spine away from the target a bit, rather than standing with all your weight in the middle, you will be creating leverage right at address. Keep the rear knee flexed and feel the weight on your instep. Loosen your upper arms and chest, and simply let the sweeping motion of the club head pull your front shoulder across your body during the back swing. If you "swing the club head" away with your fingers, then you won't be engaging the 'lifting muscles'. This will keep the large hitting muscles looser and make way for a better turn and weight shift.

Allow the Adductor muscles (the inside of the back leg) to accept the weight shift, thus avoiding swaying with the rear hip. Try to eliminate tension between the upper and lower body by letting the whole front side follow the shoulder turn. This is one of the keys to staying loose. Start the forward swing by shifting the weight back into the front hip, and derotate from the front side, thus 'slinging' the club into action by centrifugal force. Create speed with the hands and fingers after the club breaks the downward plane.

Don't "pull down" like you're ringing a church bell. That tip is misunderstood, and pulling the club down or deliberately trying to pull in your elbow to get "in the slot" tends to contract and tighten the arm muscles and can cause the hands to get caught with the club face in an open position. Let the club drop and be slung into action by the centrifugal force of the body unwinding. The forward swing is done in reverse order of the back swing. If the first move of the back swing is to take the club away on a linear path with the fingers and allow the body to follow, the first move of the forward swing should now be with the body.

Golf is sneaky hard because we don't hit at the ball the way the body wants to, but rather swing through the ball, with the follow through being the goal. The list of things you need to do during the golf swing is actually quite small compared to the things you don't need (or even want) to do!

Lessons from a PGA Professional who can think outside the box and work with any range of motion or particular physical issues you may have will benefit you more than trying to emulate or follow books and magazines with pictures of young, thin, flexible tour professionals.

Once the physical properties relevant to you finding a comfort zone (or maybe have been preventing you from doing so) have been satisfied, and the equipment component has been addressed, you're on your way to a more comfortable golfing experience.

Setting Realistic Goals.

If you play once a month the goals may be simple; getting off the tee a little better or eliminating some strokes around the green could be all you need to be happier and therefore more comfortable on the course. Regardless of your desire to improve or how much improvement you're seeking, never forget the role the game of golf has in your life and your social routines. The best part of our great game is the social aspect. Just getting out on a nice day for a bit of exercise with good company is as rewarding to many golfers as playing well.

Embrace this time spent away from the stresses of daily life, and you'll realize you're already more comfortable than you were on the drive to the course! If you are not content with your current level of play and wish to improve, having a 'game plan' that includes realistic goals and working to meet them one at a time will build your confidence and contribute to creating or finding a comfort zone.

Remember that going through swing changes can be very frustrating and difficult. For the many athletic people that have developed their own swing over several years, their athleticism has enabled them to somehow get the job done and scratch their way around the track with some moments of brilliance. These great moments are usually well outnumbered by the bad ones. Once you've made the commitment to take lessons and improve you must put everything in perspective.

If your swing has been grooved over time, and you decide to finally enact some changes, it's going to be rough at first -- especially if you are still playing a couple of times a week while only seeing your instructor once a week. Half way through your round, once frustration sets in, you revert to the "old swing". While this brings you back to your comfort zone, you have to remember that 'old swing' is what brought you to the lesson tee to begin with!

Finding your comfort zone can now be doing you in...Some changes can take time. Don't sabotage yourself by dropping the changes you're trying to enact to finish out an already erratic round. The real life boundaries of a golf hole, the uneven lies on the fairway are where you need to practice the stuff you're paying your instructor for! The range or practice tee is wide and level. If you've ever left a lesson after experiencing even just a few really good shots, you know 'it's in there', and you have to keep trying to get it out. Stick with your game plan to improve. The more you revert to the old ways, the longer it will take for the corrections to take effect.

At one facility I was on staff at, the second hole was a par three over water. It was all carry, and being early in the round many players hadn't 'found their swing' yet and a lot of good balls were drowned. A lot of the members who came to me for lessons had just that shot in mind. "Get me over the water on number two!" was a realistic goal. As soon as these players began to execute this shot they'd immediately change the tone for the rest of the day. Not drowning a ball on the second hole was all it took to find that comfort zone. Regardless of the final count, the day was invariably a success. Achieving that first goal set the stage for the next step to improving the rest of their game.

Your 'comfort zone' is a state of mind. It can be influenced by many factors. It can be obtained by securing some of the variables and starting off the season with confidence. Remember this old bumper sticker: "A bad day at golf is better than a good day at work". Don't let the occasional irritating player in your foursome get to you. Set the tone for success; dress nicely -- keep your clubs clean, look sharp and be prepared for an enjoyable round. Set realistic goals, and get help to meet them. Have fun. If you just relax and enjoy your surroundings, you're almost there!

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