TARPON SPRINGS — Everything seems perfect. Feet spread apart. Backswing slow and steady. Head still. Weight shift from back to front.
But when clubhead makes contact with golf ball, the ball skids off the tee and dribbles down the fairway.
That's two words no golfer wants to hear. They can ruin your day.
We're here to help.
We have solicited the expertise of pro Lew Smither III, who spent 25 years as a teaching pro at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor before becoming director of golf at Cypress Run Golf Club in Tarpon Springs in September. Smither has been named one of Florida's top 20 instructors by Golf Digest. His lessons usually cost $125 per hour.
Smither likes to say that golf isn't complicated. He has a few tips that likely will help you make better contact and have more fun.
"The one inevitable in golf is that you have to make contact,'' Smither said.
"You have to get the ball down the fairway if you're going to have any fun at this game. That's where it all starts.''
Hammer the ball
Smither got the idea to use a hammer in his lessons after a chipping clinic. He said he spent nearly 20 minutes going over clubhead speed, club angles and swing planes. When it came time to put the lessons into action, most of the golfers were topping the balls down the fairway. That caused Smither to think about why. "I asked them 'Where do you look at the ball?' '' Smither said. "They either said they looked at the top of the ball or they didn't know. Well, if you're looking at the top of the ball, your eyes are going to tell you to hit the top of the ball. That's where I got the idea for the hammer. Make it simple. If you're going to drive a nail into the wall, you look at it and hit it. Do the same with the golf ball.'' For effect, Smither has a hammer duct taped to the end of a club shaft. Imagine the ball is a nail you're trying to hit into a wall. Keep your eyes glued to the target (which is the back of the ball), and your head will stay still. Your alignment will also stay steady as you focus on the target. "Your body responds to what the eyes tell it,'' Smither said. "The eyes are what gives you all of the information. Stay focused on what the point of contact is, and everything else will follow.''
The eyes have it
Smither is a firm believer in the visual part of golf. If the eyes are in the right place, the body will follow. One misconception of topping the ball is that the head moved up before the swing. Not true. "I've been doing this for about 35 years, and I've never seen anybody just look up,'' said Smither, exaggerating a golfer who looks skyward when trying to hit the ball. "(A ball isn't topped) because you're looking up. It's because your eyes are in the wrong place.'' Keep the eyes steady and the body will stay steady. Golf is a hand/eye coordination sport. So if the eyes are looking at the proper target, the brain will tell the hands where to go. It takes practice, but after a while, it should become second nature. "The eyes take in the information,'' Smither said. "The body responds to what the eyes look at.'' This theory should also help if you tend to hit it fat.
From tee to ground
If topping the ball off the tee shot is a problem, a drill can help you fix it. While on the driving range or in your back yard, line up four tees about 2 feet apart, as in the photo above left. Place a ball only on the fourth tee in the row. On the tees with no ball, take a swing and try to knock the tee into the air. This will help you concentrate on the tee instead of the ball. When it comes time to hit the ball, use the same swing at the tee and you will hit the ball squarely on the side. "Practice sweeping the tee off the ground,'' Smither said. "Once you do that, then hit some balls off the tee. It should be no different than hitting the tee without a ball on it. Sweep through the ball and make solid contact.'' If you want to try this drill at home but don't have a lot of room, try putting a tee on top of the tee that's in the ground, as in the photo above right. Use the same theory of hammering a nail and try to make solid contact with the top tee. This will also help you sweep through a shot without hitting balls into your neighbor's house.
A swing is a swing
Now that you have your eyes in the right place, here's one more swing thought for hitting the ball solidly. No matter what sport, the key to hitting an object with a stick is making sure the stick is in the right position. In golf, as you begin to follow through, the end of the club should be pointing at the ball. That will put your hands in the proper place to make a good follow through. Then hammer the nail and watch the ball take off. "The bottom of the club is always pointing to the object it is going to strike,'' Smither said. "Doesn't matter if it's a baseball swing or a golf swing. The only difference is the angle of the swing. But as the club, or bat, comes forward, the end should always be pointing at the target."