Armchair Golf Pro: FedEx Cup, Furyk, Effective Golf Swings

PGA Tour's FedEx Cup

Image by bsteve76

I enjoyed this year’s FedEx Cup playoffs. I thought the point system kept it interesting and the $10 million payoff certainly added pressure. The final PGA Tour Championship tournament had so many permutations and possible outcomes I was glad the network decided to provide the on-going updates. It was like watching a pennant race. It actually mattered what Kuchar did, and whether Stricker 2-putted the final hole, and whether Watney could keep up his amazing charge. Nobody was even talking about Furyk before the tournament, but there he was at the end, needing an up-and-down from the sand trap at 18 to win it all.

Jim Furyk is a grinder. He’s meticulous, precise, steady as a rock and as unyielding as one too. At East Lake Country Club Furyk’s steady play earned him the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup trophy, a check for $11.35 million dollars, and possibly the Player of the Year honors. He did it battling the rain and a difficult golf course that doesn’t necessarily suit his game. But he was ranked #1 in ball striking all week, and managed to get up and down from the bunkers an amazing 9 of 9 times.

Furyk’s swing is unconventional by any measure. It’s not the sort of swing you’d try to emulate. He loops it in on the backswing, flies his elbow at the top, then drops it back in on the downswing.

Jim Furyk practicing a day before the 2004 Ryd...

Image via Wikipedia

But if you watch a video snippet that just shows Furyk’s swing through the impact zone he’s dead on. He is more concerned with impact – what’s called “the moment of Truth” – than the mechanical swing issues that stymie so many players from shooting their best scores.

Furyk is my favorite golfer to use as an example of being successful without having a perfect golf swing, and of showcasing one of my favorite topics: the value of having an effective golf swing vs. an efficient golf swing.

When I’m working with students on the lesson tee or on the range I’m always trying to encourage them to split their practice time 50% on efficiency and 50% effectiveness. That means 50% on mechanics, and 50% on targets. And in fact the closer a golfer gets to tournament time or an important round, the more the emphasis should be on targets – as much as 80% to 100%.

When working on mechanics the focus of the swing is on developing awareness around the issue you are addressing. Not on results. When you are working on scoring the focus should be on targets and how close you can hit your ball to the target. Not on mechanics.

Trying to work on targets and mechanics at the same time is counterproductive.

My contention is that the ability to zero in and focus on just targets is a skill, the same way maintaining swing plane or having a weight shift is a skill. You can improve your ability to swing on plane or shift your weight. You can also improve your ability to have a target focus.

When you develop your skill at maintaining target focus throughout the swing you allow your body to move more naturally and athletically. Thinking about mechanics interferes with the process.

It’s ok to think about mechanics on the range. But when you are on the golf course the emphasis is on getting the ball in the hole – not on HOW you are going to get the ball in the hole, just getting it in the hole.

Being sure to include target practice as part of your regular practice routine helps you develop the most important skill you need on the course – scoring. My favorite practice for scoring is the No-Look drill. I hit my wedge at a target and as soon as I hit it I call left or right, short or long, before looking up to see where it actually goes. This drill helps me to keep a target focus, because in order to call left/right or short/long I have to know where the target is. It also helps me develop the feel of releasing my club to the target.

So the Armchair Golf Pro’s next few practice sessions will have an emphasis on targets rather than mechanics, thanks to Furyk’s example. Congratulations Jim!