Cure Slice No. 1

I am going to cure this slice if it kills me: Part 1

The lowest moment in my journey so far came last week, when I conducted the following Google search:

“Do any pro golfers scoop?”

You can probably see how I got there—I’m a mediocre golfer (best 18-hole score: 84), I’ve been scooping for literally the entire nine years of my playing life, and it’s so ingrained in me, so firmly entrenched in muscle memory, that at my most desperate moments I think, “maybe it’s fine?” And in these bouts of self-justification, I try to come up with reasons why I don’t actually have to stop scooping, why I can become great at this sport in defiance of the exactly 100% of swing instructors, pros, coaches, and general human population who say that no, you absolutely cannot be a good golfer if you have a scoopy swing. In these moments, I dream of being the poor man’s Jim Furyk of the scoop—a low handicap municipal stud who thumbed his nose at the orthodoxy and followed his own path to greatness. I only needed one example of someone who did it before me.

The Google search turned up zero hits. This is likely because there are, in fact, no professionals who employ a disastrous swing flaw in their arsenal, just as there no pros who—I don’t know—strike the ball with the back side of the club. Who’d have thought?

Before we go any deeper on this journey, let’s define a scoop for those who don’t know. It’s pretty simply: the scoop happens when the proper wrist angle breaks down before impact and you try to literally scoop the ball into the air with your hands. While a player with a good swing has his hands in front of the ball at impact, with full extension to come after the strike, the scooper “achieves” that extension at impact, losing a ton of power and introducing a glaring inconsistency into the motion, making everything harder; welcome to the world of hitting fat and thin, repeat ad nauseam.

Here’s how that looks, from an image taken at my range session two weeks ago:

As you see, this is a really, really bad scoop. Like so much of our human behavior, I can only imagine that it was developed in response to original trauma. I never played as a kid, focusing on baseball, basketball, and football, and only decided when I was writing an actual golf book about the PGA Tour in 2014 that I should probably learn to play, at which point I became addicted. I can’t trace the origin of the scoop with any historical rigor, but in this case I’d have to guess that when I first started hitting, hitting the ball thin frustrated me to such a degree that I unconsciously adopted a sort of cheat code method to get the ball up in the air. And, as you see, it completely ****ed me up forever.

Until now, I never really tried to do anything about it. I knew, instinctively, that to actually fix this part of my game would constitute a major overhaul, take lots of time, and make me miserable in the process. Instead, I adopted the strategy of passively hoping it would go away. Shock of all shocks? That didn’t work.

Now, I’m trying. The reality has set in that although I might be able to get lucky and break 80 one day by my current method, true consistency and my maximum distance won’t be available to me until I get this sorted out. A series of videos by the instructor Danny Maude clarified a few things about the iron swing for me last month, and when I thought I was hitting the ball very well on the range one day, I set up the camera and got the result you see above. That’s when I knew that until I made a conscious effort to rid myself of the scoop, nothing else I did would mean much. It occurred to me at the same time that every day I delayed that work was a day that the scoop would be ingrained in my muscle memory.

It was time to act.

Step 1: The training aids

After some searching, the first thing I did was buy a DST Compressor 8-iron, a well-reviewed training club that is artificially bent backwards along the shaft so that in theory, the only way you can make a clean strike is to have your hands well in front at impact. I took it to the range, struggled initially, and then began hitting some lovely high shots straight down the pipe. Could it be that easy? I set up my camera, and this was the result:

As you see, the scoop is already in effect well before impact, and is, in fact, worse than ever before. Almost immediately, my brain adapted to the shape of the new club, effectively saying, “you think you can get me to stop scooping with a screwy club? Watch this, baby,” and then exaggerating the scoop to get a good result. It was almost impressive, and pissed me off deeply. I don’t for a second think this is any kind of final verdict on the DST Compressor, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to work for me as a first step.

The next thing I bought, on the advice of my pro Karl at Hillandale, was a much cheaper smash bag. Here, the concept is that you fill this bag up with old clothes or birdseed or something, and when you hit it, you can immediately tell where your hands are because the club is going to stop. That way, you can adjust and train your swing. The one negative I kept reading in the reviews is that the stitching tends to break pretty easily, and in fact that happened on the first day I began to use it. But so far, it hasn’t really mattered—it still functions as it’s supposed to. As I found out, it’s wayyyy easier to get your hands out ahead and maintain a wrist angle on the smash bag:

There, the right hand might be a little bit scoopy still, but the hands are successfully out in front at impact. So far, this does not immediately translate to the range, but in terms of training a specific motion and undoing years of muscle memory, I find this aid to be far more useful than the compressor club—even if you can see a pair of old white shorts poking out of the broken seams.

The Videos

I want to mention a few videos I found helpful from the “feel” perspective. First, this drill from Dan Whitaker that focuses on the idea of driving a nail in with the butt of the club, lead by the left hand; I’m somebody who learns by feel, and this was the kind of proprioceptive idea that helps me remember to get the left hand out front.

Second, the drill from Andrew Rice starting at the 5-minute mark in this video, in which a slight bow of the left wrist helps the face impact, and short punchy swings are taken from a parallel position with an emphasis on moving the body through and keeping the hands in front.

Trying this at the range, it astounded how unbelievably difficult it was to actually strike the ball without scooping, even with a simple punch shot technique. Never was the obstacle more clear—muscle memory was so embedded that it was overriding any directions I was giving it. When you don’t care about making a ball go forward, as when you’re hitting a smash bag, it’s easy to do the right thing. When you’ve got that little white hellion of an orb sitting beneath you, though, the hands and body are going to revert. Finally, after a range session from hell, I managed to capture myself making impact with the hands well ahead of the ball:

This shot squirted to the right about 30 yards, my head is completely turned away from the ball with my eyes seemingly closed, the club is almost comically hooded, and it’s just desperately ugly in 100 different ways, but I still felt like I’d conquered a demon.

Where I am now

This **** is hard. I’m trying to get out and hit a few balls every day when the weather cooperates, but when I do, I’m still scooping when I allow myself to take a full swing. And this presents a conundrum: Do I shut down playing actual golf until I can make some real progress, or is it okay to continue my range practice, but allow myself to swing “normally” on the course so I’m not horrible to play with in the meantime? I think I’m opting for the latter, though it does feel like this is an iffy solution; if I’m scooping on the course when it matters, will I ever truly be cured?

Coming up this week is a sorely needed lesson, at which I want to probe my instructor on why the scoop persists, and continue to hammer at this stone, hoping one day that it finally breaks. For now, the plan is to continue thinking about this more than I think about literally anything else in life, and slowly drive myself mad.

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One Response to Cure Slice No. 1

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