In the early 1980s, I worked with David Leadbetter to make wholesale changes to my swing. In those days, such a makeover was mostly a matter of beating balls—fifteen hundred a day, until my hands were sore—and it took me two years. But now we know so much more about the biomechanics of the golf swing and how the body can be trained, and we have so many advanced ways of monitoring and analyzing swings. I’m convinced that using today’s methods I could have made those same changes in four months or less—in short, over one dedicated winter.
For a professional, that would mean moving to some warm place, retaining a great teacher, a physical trainer and maybe a psychologist, and really getting after it. For amateurs this is impractical. But my point is that the winter is plenty long enough to substantially improve your game. In fact, it’s the best time to work on your fundamentals, because, depending on where you live, you won’t be as distracted by play.
Why not make winning next year’s club championship your goal, at whatever flight level you compete in?In my judgment that’s an excellent ambition because it will give focus to your work. And here’s how I would start: Visualize winning. I mean literally closing your eyes and seeing yourself making the winning putt on the eighteenth green, shaking hands with the person you beat (you know who he or she is!) and accepting the trophy afterward. Visualizations like this are more powerful than most people think.
Then work backward to create a plan. Be very honest in assessing your game and decide what the key areas are that you need to improve. You can be as ambitious as your desires and time allow, be it undertaking a complete makeover or simply adding an extra bit of distance to your drives. But you should definitely plan to work in three areas: the physical, the mental and the technical.
Don’t underestimate the first of those areas. After age forty, unless we work at it, our bodies just crimp up; there’s no way around it. We lose flexibility, strength and balance. The main problem aging amateurs have—especially higher handicappers—is that they cannot make the full turn they need for a proper swing, and they cannot hold their finish in balance, with most of their weight on their forward side.
I highly recommend getting a physical assessment from someone knowledgeable about the biomechanics of golf. He or she will be able to pinpoint the areas where you need the most work and will suggest some simple drills and exercises. You don’t need to lose fifty pounds (if you’re that much overweight) to have a much better body for golf. You just need to increase your flexibility in certain key areas, such as the hips and hamstrings, and shore up your strength here and there. Believe me, a month or two of modest effort over the winter will make a huge difference come spring.
As for technique, everyone’s needs and commitment are different, but consider working with a pro. It’s possible to make improvements by yourself with the help of videos or by studying photographs of Tour pros’ swing sequences. But having that extra set of trained eyes can be invaluable. Tell the pro what your goals are, and he’ll help you build a plan. And don’t take just one lesson. You can do a lot of the work yourself, but give the pro a chance to monitor your progress over time. Changes in a swing are often miniscule but feel massive. It helps enormously to have someone keep you on the right track.