After having him on Episode 7 of the GolfLifeAB podcast, PGA of Canada teaching pro Todd Halpen invited me to come by and spend an hour at the Golf Canada Calgary Centre to talk golf and maybe hit a few balls.
Not knowing what to expect, I went in one beautiful May afternoon to see if I could glean some tips from a top flight teaching pro.
I approached the front desk and told them I was there to see Todd, but that my appointment wasn’t until 2:30 and I was just going to hit a few balls.
“You don’t want to hit too many before going to see Todd,” the young man at the front said. So I settled on a small bucket, curious about what I might be getting into after getting what amounted to a polite warning.
I knew as soon as I stepped in and Todd started talking, I was going to get more than I bargained for.
The information and the questions started flowing. Thoughts, swings, what I wanted out of the session, and then right into the session without hesitation.
Over the next several articles, I’m going to try to break down some of the concepts Todd explained to me and how they might apply to my golf game.
Caveat: I’m not a golf instructor, Todd is. I’m merely interpreting the information he offered me and I’m reiterating it with the possibility it might help your game. In fact, Todd said he’d be interested to see how I explained these concepts, because they relate to one’s game differently than others.
I accepted the challenge to distil the information and repurpose it in a way that might offer you value.
So we’ll start here: Examining my golf game as a grid of shots
After seeing a couple swings, Todd asked me, “what kind of ball do you hit?” What he meant was do I hit a fade or draw, low or high ball, that sort of thing.
“Well, I typically hit a straight ball,” I answered.
“No you don’t,” he said. OK then. “No one hits a straight ball, it’s impossible.”
He’s right. All balls have spin and therefore physics tells us that it does go one way over another. But, he got what he needed to know: I played safe by trying to hit the ball straight all the time.
This is when the real lesson started. Todd told me that in order to start scoring more frequently, I needed to learn to shape the ball. You know, hit a high, swooping draw, or a low slice around some trees. On command.
It sounds crazy, but I was out of my comfort zone. Though, it made so much sense.
This is when we got to the grid. Envision your golf game as a grid of shots. Each degree you open or close your club face, each degree you draw the club back inside or outside of your typical plane, each inch you move the ball forward or backward in your stance, you create a different shot type.
If you go through all your clubs and imagine the possibilities in each one of them, you literally have thousands and thousands of possible shots. The shot grid. Imagine all of those shots on an Excel spreadsheet.
Going back to my point about the ‘always hitting a straight ball,’ on the grid this equates to hitting along a straight, diagonal line through the grid.
Basically, I’m playing it over-safe sticking with the easy shots I was comfortable with playing. Here’s the problem: those shots don’t work in every situation. In fact, by playing the safe shots in situations that don’t call for that safe shot, you’re continuing to play to that safe, 80 to 85, 18-hole score on the course.
Let me describe a situation: Dogleg left with trees on the left corner and you leave your drive just behind the dogleg on the left hand side of the fairway. Straightball Darren tries to eye up a shot over the trees, but it’s too close. What about under and through the trees? Too much potential for damage.
The highest percentage shot, when executed, is a nice 10 to 15 yard draw up and around the trees and close to, or on, the green.
I don’t have that shot. Not yet.
And I understand that many readers are still trying to get that consistent straight shot in their bag. It doesn’t mean the concept of visualizing your game as a grid of potential golf shots doesn’t work for you. The grid might be smaller and more limited now, but as long as you’re testing out how you can create different shots on the golf course, you’re going to keep adding shots to your arsenal.
And that’s what Todd left me with.
“You shouldn’t be hitting normal straight shots at the range anymore,” he said.
“You need to be working on shaping the ball.”
I get it now. I need to start filling out that golf grid. And hopefully that’s going to help take my game to a different level.