This story appeared in the Sept. 3, 2010 issue of Golfweek
by Sean Martin
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Scott Langley is not a technical player.
“When my fundamentals are in place, I have a comfort level with my swing. I know I’m not going to miss too wide if I do miss,” said Langley, the reigning NCAA champion from Illinois who travels with a copy of Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.”
That is why his relationship with instructor, Brian Fogt, and college coach, Mike Small, works so well.
At the first lesson, Fogt asks his students, “Have you ever lied to your parents?” This exercise isn’t to embarrass the student but emphasize the importance of good fundamentals.
“When you tell one lie, then you have to manufacture another one. The same thing happens in the golf swing,” Fogt said.
Small, a three-time PGA Professional National Championship winner, has had success as a player despite limited practice time, which has taught him how to practice efficiently. Small emphasizes the short game, which is the area Langley has improved the most since he came to Champaign.
Here are some simple keys that Langley and Small have focused on en route to winning their respective national championships:
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Full swing: Club moves first, a flatter downswing
Langley used to start his backswing with his entire upper body. This caused him to sway left and overturn on the backswing. “He’d sway too much, and his wrists would set later,” Fogt said.
Now, the club is the first thing to move back.
“It makes sense because the club has to travel much farther than the shoulders,” Langley said.
Because Langley’s shoulders turned too far during his old backswing, they had to turn too early in his downswing, which caused him to come “over the top.” Langley now stops his backswing just short of parallel. The more-compact swing helps him to sequence his downswing properly.
To help him “flatten” his downswing, Langley places a plane stick in the ground, and aims it down his target line. If Langley comes “over the top,” he’ll hit the stick. He must “flatten” the shaft on the downswing to avoid the stick.
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Short game: Use the club’s bounce for chipping
When Langley first arrived on campus, he used what Small called a “lag and drag” chipping method. Langley had a lot of forward lean in the shaft at address. His hands were still well ahead of the ball at impact, which would produce a lot of spin, but also cause the club to dig into the turf.
Small wants his players to use a club’s bounce. He has his players set up with the shaft more vertical to the ground at address, nearly perpendicular. Small wants to keep that relationship between the hands and club constant throughout the swing. That causes a circular arc where the downswing’s path is similar to the backswing’s.
To reinforce this feeling, Langley hits chip shots while gripping the club with just his left hand (the right hand for right-handers). Langley wants to feel like the club “releases” through impact, and that his hand is slightly ahead of the ball at impact.
This causes the ball to come off the clubface much softer and roll like a putt when it hits the green.
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Address: Find the right distance
A player’s distance from the ball is an important, but oft-overlooked, aspect of address. Langley has a simple check to monitor how far he’s standing from the ball.
At address, the left-handed Langley grips the club with his right hand, then places the side of his left hand against his right thigh, with his left thumb perpendicular to the hand and parallel to the ground. He then rests his right wrist against his left thumb.
“When I’m a good distance from the ball, I think it’s so much easier to take advantage of the power I have stored in my body,” Langley said. “When I’m too far away, I don’t feel connected, and it’s hard to do things in the correct sequence.”
That distance from the ball dictates the swing’s plane. When Langley stands too far from the ball, his swing plane gets too flat, and vice versa. The same is true for Langley’s putting stroke, because the putter follows the arc of his body rotation.
Langley wants his eyes to be directly over the ball when he putts. To ensure this, he places a ball between his eyes, then drops it. Wherever the ball lands is where he wants to place the ball at address.
“When my eyes are over the putter, I can feel like I can naturally use my big muscles and rock the putter on a consistent arc,” Langley said.
Warm-up: Slice, hook . . . straight
Langley has a warm-up routine that most players aren’t brave enough to try, Small said.
Langley will hit extreme slices and hooks on the range before rounds to help find his optimal swing plane.
“We want our players to ‘warm up’ before a tournament round, not ‘practice,’ ” Small said. “Most players want to look like they’re striping it on the range.”
While warming up, Langley will hit one large draw, one large slice, then one straight ball. Langley will do this several times, decreasing the side spin on the ball with each progression until he’s hitting balls with just a slight curve.
“It’s a good way to loosen up, feel my natural swing plane and not think about mechanics on the range,” Langley said.
He doesn’t curve the ball much on the course, but this drill also helps prepare for situations where sidespin is necessary.
Langley likes to make as few swing changes as possible when hitting draws and fades. He aims the clubface where he wants the ball to end up, and aligns his body to where he wants the ball to start, then makes his normal swing. One key: Don’t grip the club until after you’ve aimed it. If you grip the club when the face is square, then rotate it, the body has a tendency to return the club to square during the swing.