The Best Golf Lesson
I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of great golf experiences, but the golf lesson I had recently ranks near the very top. It was everything a lesson should be: fun, educational, and inspirational. I left that lesson more excited about the game than I have been in a long time because I see a clear path to playing better. The person responsible for this lesson was Rick Silva, someone you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the coming months and years.
Golf instruction technology has evolved tremendously over the years. At the start, you had an instructor standing behind a player telling him what to do. Then we moved to still images which allowed us to imitate the look of top players. Video let us see our own swings in real time and compare them to the pros. In the last ten years, launch monitors and force plates have become more common. I thought that the combination of high quality video and launch monitors was the pinnacle of instructional technology…until I saw GEARS.
GEARS is a motion capture system that blows away everything else in terms of the volume and accuracy of data it captures. It uses the same technology that Hollywood uses for making movies and puts it to work taking over 600 images of each swing with measurements as fine as 0.2 mm. Having your swing captured by GEARS requires wearing a handful of sensors (the white dots in the picture above), but there are no wires or bulky packs to inhibit your swing.
So what information does GEARS give you? Literally everything you can think of and much, much more.
All of this data means exactly zero without a first tier instructor analyzing it. It’s an F1 car without a driver. Lucky for me, Rick Silva is the Michael Schumacher of golf instructors.
You can check out his website if you want his full story; I’ll just give you a few highlights. He’s coached over half a dozen Tour players, a US Amateur Champion, a Walker Cup member, and countless NCAA players. He has a great understanding of all the latest technology: GEARS, Trackman, FlightScope, K-Vest, etc, and he has master certifications from TPI, NG 360, Golf Bio-Mechanics, and is Manzella Certified.
With all that said, here’s what I found most important about Rick: he’s a good dude. Given all his knowledge, he could easily be another condescending, bored, egomaniacal golf instructor. He’s not. He treated me like a friend from the minute we met and fixing my swing like it was his most important job. Rick made me feel comfortable and made the swing changes seem achievable.
Old School Changes
Some of you may be thinking that with all this technology and Rick’s knowledge of the swing, the stuff I learned must have been incredibly complicated. You’d be wrong.
After observing some warm-up swings, Rick asked me to hit three shots: a draw, a straight shot, and a cut. I proceeded to hit a big draw, a small draw, and a ball that never left the center line. Did Rick dive into his computer and swamp me with numbers? Nope. He adjusted my ball position. After that, he asked me to get rid of my exaggerated forward press (see above). Getting the shaft into a neutral position cleaned up my head and shoulder positions naturally.
Fixing the Backswing
With my address position dramatically improved, Rick talked to me about my backswing. I have a longstanding tendency to get the club “inside” or “behind” my hands very early in the swing (yellow, above). Rick explained that this makes the club “heavier,” in addition to starting a negative chain of events for later in the swing.
Rick addressed the problems in the entire backswing with a simple concept: get the butt of the club pointing at or inside the ball. This was the first change that felt awkward, but it was very manageable. This is also where we leaned a little more heavily on GEARS. On video, the two swings above may not look terribly different, but with GEARS we can see that there’s significant improvement.
Here’s the before (yellow) and after (blue) of my top positions laid on top of one another. One additional thing that you can’t see from this perspective: I was staying much more centered as opposed to swaying off the ball.
“Make the Club Lighter”
Rick’s advice for the downswing was similar to the backswing: make the club “lighter” sooner by getting it outside of the hands earlier. He had me pause at the top and make “pump” downswings where my hands stopped before the ball and I “flipped” the club toward impact. This felt truly awkward, but GEARS showed things trending in the right direction. I even hit a couple balls from a posed top of the backswing with very fine results.
While the impact positions still look very similar, one thing to note is where the ball is on the club face. My tendency coming in was to swing dramatically in-to-out and hit a lot of shots on the heel. With this improved motion, my club path was more neutral and hitting the ball on the center of the face happened more regularly.
The Best Part
The best part of this lesson – what would have made it worth twice the price – was the fact that I left so excited about playing better golf. For the first time in a long time, I saw meaningful improvements in my swing. I felt like I have a plan. I felt like shooting lower scores was more than something to dream about.
If you’re looking to make a real investment in improving your game, I cannot recommend Rick Silva highly enough.