Sick of Hacking? A Chat with Lynn Blake

As a teacher of this great game of ours there are some people who you just really enjoy having a banter with. Nearly a quarter of a century later, having been inspired by Homer Kelly, Lynn’s enthusiasm for teaching the game just leaps out at you and the interview below shows this beaming light and his want to help golfers. He looks after a few players on the PGA Tour these days so it was great to catch up with him with some pertinent questions.

Q: Why is it that handicaps have constantly failed to drop despite thousands of books, magazines and videos?

A: It’s because golfers continue to bend their left wrists through impact and hit at the ball. That is ‘hacking’ the ball, and as the handicap charts tell us, it produces only hackers. Until Joe Public learns to keep his left wrist flat and swing through the ball, handicaps will stay high.

Q: That’s it? Just keep your left wrist flat and you break 80 tomorrow?

A: Pretty much. But just knowing to keep your left wrist flat and actually doing it are two different things. And there’s the rub. We break down through impact because we create conflicting forces that make it impossible not to break down. The problem is as simple as that. And as complex.

Q: Conflicting forces?

A: That’s right. We throw the club past the left arm – rather than in line with it – for a reason. For example, the club wants to go down through impact, but in a mistaken attempt to add velocity, we flatten the right wrist. This is a ‘false feel’ – it’s a forward motion, not a downward motion – and it causes the clubhead to immediately stop going down and to start coming up. And because the clubhead stops going down toward the ball, it also stops going out toward the ball. Its orbit has been completely disrupted and, as a result, it begins to go toward the target.

Q: But isn’t the clubhead supposed to go toward the target?

A: Well, that’s what golfers for centuries have been told to do – “Swing toward the target.” But when you flatten the right wrist and begin to drive the club toward the target, you’ve interrupted the correct down plane travel. So, that advice doesn’t work. In fact, it’s what we call a ‘seems as if’ – something quite logical that seems to be correct but which is actually very wrong. For example, it’s logical to assume that an airplane’s black box is colored black, but it’s not. It’s orange. If you’re looking for a black box, you’ll never find it.

Similarly, our golf swings reflect what we believe, and that’s where our incorrect concepts get us into trouble. When you focus on swinging the clubhead toward the target instead of the hands toward the ball, things go bump in the night. The hands should be well in front of the ball at impact and most golfers never get there. Instead, they convulsively fire the clubhead past the hands, the left wrist bends and the shot is lost.

Q: Okay, so we’re not supposed to ‘swing toward the target’. What else shouldn’t we be doing?

A: We shouldn’t be trying to make the clubhead go in a straight line – through impact or anywhere else. And we certainly shouldn’t be trying to hold the clubface square to the target.

Q: Have you no mercy?

A: I know. Tough to accept isn’t it? But those are two more ‘seems as ifs’ that plague our games. The clubhead moves in a curve through impact, not a straight line. And the clubface is constantly closing, not staying square. Attempting to swing the clubhead in a straight line and hold the clubface square is called steering, exactly the opposite of what Bobby Jones called ‘free-wheeling’. Steering results in a layback of the clubface and a terrific loss of compression, and it should be avoided unless deliberately employed by the skilled player to produce a higher, softer shot. Otherwise, like swinging toward the target, it just doesn’t work.

Q: If the clubhead isn’t staying on the target line, what is it doing?

A: It is staying on its own inclined plane of motion. Visualize a pitched roof passing through the waist with a straight-line gutter at its base. The way the golfer stays on this plane is to trace (point at) the baseline of that plane with the right forearm and right hand trigger finger. Since that baseline normally sits directly on top of the target line, that means tracing the target line. Ideally, that tracing begins immediately during the start up and backstroke, but without fail, it must be done through the ball.

Q: And the clubface?

A: Again, normally it simply closes. Just like a door. In fact, that is exactly what we’re talking about here: a left arm and club that, because the left wrist stays flat, goes around the left shoulder together. And as it does, the clubface simply closes (in relation to the baseline of the plane). Exactly like a door swinging on its hinges. This is the principle. A door moves in a circle around its axis and it closes. The only thing that differs in golf is the plane of motion. A door swings on a horizontal plane, but the club swings on an inclined plane. Through impact, the trick is to make the Clubface close only (a horizontal motion) as the Clubhead attacks down, out and forward (a three-dimensional angled motion).

Q: And how do we do this?

A: As I’ve said, the right forearm and trigger finger control the plane of motion by tracing the baseline of the plane – normally the target line – through impact. The forefinger senses the pressure created by the drag of the lagging club (specifically, the sweetspot), and it directs this lag pressure feel directly toward and along the line. Meanwhile, the left wrist remains perpendicular to the ground. It appears to roll through impact, but it is not independently twisted. Because the left wrist does not swivel – again, it simply remains perpendicular to the ground – the clubface closes uniformly. It does not over-roll and, and unless otherwise intended, it does not lay back. So, control of the clubhead orbit and lag pressure is a right hand function. Control of the clubface is a left hand function.

Q: You’re saying that our left hand is really involved in the swing. Educated hands seem very, very important rather than just being seen as a gripping device.

A: Absolutely right. As a mechanical device, the hands are merely clamps. They attach the club securely to the arms and control the clubface alignments. They contribute little to power other than to sense its five-stage process—accumulation, loading, storage, delivery and release. As Homer Kelley, author of The Golfing Machine, used to say, “The plane is the heart and soul of the golf swing. The clubshaft must remain on plane [through impact] and every stroke component must comply with that requirement.” It is Educated Hands that dictate that total component compliance.

Q: Is there a best way to apply these principles?

A: You bet. Start with the short shots, the little chips and pitches. Thousands of them. Here is where you learn the basics of grip, stance, posture, the stationary head, the straight left arm and the bending right arm, the right forearm position and right triceps extension, tracing the line, the impact hands location and clubshaft forward lean, and most of all, the motion of the hands through impact.

Here is where you rid yourself once and for all of the old ‘bending left wrist, flattening right wrist’ throwing motion at the ball. And you do it by concentrating on keeping the left wrist flat and accepting nothing less until it is. Only when you’ve mastered the flat left wrist should you expand the program to include the full pivot strokes. That’s because, without it, nothing else works very well, and more information means only more confusion.

Unfortunately, few instructors insist on this staged process and even when they do, most students won’t stick with it. And without this discipline, we come full circle to your first question: Nothing changes and handicaps remain high. The flip side of the coin is that, once mastered, this alignment becomes the gateway to a lifetime of better golf.

Q: Does it matter what level of golfer you apply these principles?

A: No, the Laws of Force and Motion have been with us since the beginning of time, and all creatures soon learn to move accordingly. In fact, you cannot move without them. And there is only one set. They govern all force and motion – from the golf ball that dives into the lake to the baby’s spilt milk – and they apply to all people. No one is exempt. Not you, not me, not the Champion Golfer of the Year. We all must comply. If we don’t, the ball complains.

Q: What is the role of the golf pro and that of the student in the learning process?

A: Homer Kelley defined those roles pretty well when he wrote, “The instructor can only inform and explain. The student must absorb and apply.” The student needs accurate information – the principles and major concepts from which there will be no deviation. But, also, he needs to know the full pallet of colors available to him, the wide variety of correct procedures from which he can extract his own preferred variations. The instructor explains the principles and, ideally, demonstrates the correct mechanics.

Plus, he supervises the process of translating them into the student’s own identifiable feels. The student is at first totally dependent upon the watchful eye of the instructor, because his own cannot adequately differentiate between the ‘samenesses’ and the ‘differences’ of the individual Stroke Components. Nor is he aware of their relationships with each other.

Beyond that, the instructor is the facilitator, he keeps things moving, and in the right direction. I’m not talking about just mechanics here. I’m talking about the spirit. The heart. Sometimes the student must lean against the confidence of his teacher because he has none of his own. In the inevitable down times and often extended periods of plateau, the instructor continually reminds his student that the journey is one of continuous progress, not instant perfection.

The student senses his teacher’s steadfast belief and quiet resolve: “This is doable. It is doable by you. The pathway is there. All you need is determination and time.” And together, they make it happen.

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