Mark Immelman and Jeff Smith: Tips for Better Ball-Striking

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Mark Immelman and Jeff Smith: Tips for Better Ball-Striking

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Mark Immelmann and Jeff Smith with Tips for Better Ball-Striking 

May 21, 2018

Episode Info

Jeff Smith is one of the brightest minds in golf instruction. Based at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, Jeff teaches a number of PGA TOUR, and Mini-Tour Golf Professionals.  Among his clients is the winner of the 2018 At&T Byron Nelson, Aaron Wise.  Smith joins our podcast to share his philosophy on the golf swing, and to help you improve your swing so that you can improve your “Spin Loft” to strike the ball more powerfully (gain more golf ball compression) and more consistently.

Introduction with Mark Immelman: 

This week Aaron Wise (May 2018) broke through! Another young star on the PGA tour. Now in the winners circle, at just 21 years young (at the time of the release of this podcast) on the doorstep of his 22nd birthday.
**Fun Fact: 22 is my lucky number, just for the record! ** 

Aaron held off a lot of PGA Tour studs like Marc Leishman, Brandon Grace, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker; it was basically like a Whos, Whos of golf. A young stud out of University of Oregon, left school early after his sophomore year, after he won the NCAA championship, led his team to a national championship, and makes his way on to the tour via the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada). I was out there on the course covering the final round….and MAN did he hit some clutch shots coming down the stretch! He made some awesome putts, some high quality golf shots, all under the heat of Marc Leishman staring down his neck. It was a very impressive performance from a young man. Congratulations to Aaron Wise! And congratulations to his coach, Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is a bright mind, with some savvy insights, that I know are going to help you strike a golf ball better. 

Welcome Jeff Smith: 

Mark: Tell us a little bit about you. Share how you came to where you are. 

Jeff: It is a very interesting story. I am on a road that few have traveled. Getting to where I’m at as far as the level of golf instruction I’m at right now, is a fairytale. The stars aligned for me to be doing what I am doing. 

I was a late bloomer in golf. I was first introduced in the game, vaguely, by my great grandfather when I was about 8 or 9 years old. That really just involved trips to the driving range, occasionally, going to the golf course with him when he would play. I didn’t have any formal instruction and I wasn’t playing a lot of that time. 

It wasn’t until my early teens that I got my own set of golf clubs. I grew up in rural Tennessee and so the nearest driving range was 25 minutes away from my house.  There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to play golf where I grew up; we were more into football, baseball, basketball. My high school didn’t get a golf team until I was a sophomore in high school. One of my claims to fame is I was on the inaugural team! 

College Golf

I got a late start in the game. I wasn’t a great player. I didn’t have any scholarship offers, there was no college golf in my future. But when I got to college, I was really in the inquisitive part of my life. In all the other sports I played I was really interested in being really good at them, really having a high level of understanding of technique, strategy. I would really try to break those sports down and figure out “what are these great coaches and players really doing? Why are they better than everybody else?” I just kept that pathway in golf.  

I grew up with Joseph Mayo. Early in those formative years there was a lot of me and Joe just kind of bouncing ideas, reading everything on the planet, watching videos, video taping golf tournaments on TV and go back in slow motion, rewinding all the swings of Tiger Woods, David Duval, and all the greats and try to figure out what they were doing. Our backyard was like an experiment! We had a lot going on back there! 

In college it was a lot of going to see teachers, reading books, getting around great players and see what they’re doing. It was this process of gathering information. What I teach today wouldn’t look anything like what it did back in those days because we were influenced by the same information everyone else was influenced by. 

After College: A Weird Path

As a career, I took a very weird path. I took a break from golf. When I got out of college, I moved to southern California, and started my career in golf …in retail.

 I worked for a golf company, and it was nice to  learn the tech side of the equipment but quickly learned I really want to be in golf. I moved to Palm Springs in 1999. Started at the bottom, working out of PGA West, at one of their properties, a club called The Citrus. Working outside services, cleaning clubs, parking cars, all the dirty work. 

BUT, it was great because I was able to be around a lot of great players. At any given time on the back of our range we would have Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino, Mac O’Grady, Fred Couples. Before I even knew who Mac O’Grady was I was sitting on the back of the range watching him hit balls one day for about an hour. I would just constantly bring golf balls to him, interrupting him, just because I wanted to see what he was doing! 

Mark: “Stealing with your eyes!” I love that! 

Jeff: He would be working with other players and I would try to get as close as I could without interrupting him, to hear what he was saying. Those were some really influential days early in my career. 

The tough part about Palm Springs is it is so seasonal. At that time, I was 22-23 years old, about to have my first child, thinking “Wow! I’m making good money in the season, but I’m going absolutely broke in the off season.”

Got to Make a Living

I actually got recruited to go work for Target and so for several years I actually left golf completely because I needed to make some money! I climbed the ranks with that company really fast and the next thing I knew I was a store manager. I had my own hundred million dollar Target store to run with 500 employees. That is where I learned a lot of structure and organizational skills, and communication skills. Things that really relate to teaching golf. 

I did that for a few years. Again, it was very unfulfilling, even though I was making great money, I was working a lot of hours, not very happy with my career path. I looked at my wife and said “ There is no way I can do this for the next 25 years. I’ve got to go back and get into golf.” 

To be honest, I was making $175,000/year in the mid-2000s and I was rolling the dice. That was an incredible amount of money for me at the time, and I was going to go to teaching golf lessons for $70/hour. 

[Timestamp: 12:00] That led me to Las Vegas, where I had my first opportunity to start teaching at a club. From there it went from one property to the next and eventually, I landed at TCP and I’ve been there ever since. It was an odd path to where I am right now. 

I Totally Get It!

Mark: I listen to your story, and I hear a lot of me in you. I was once a young teacher on the European Tour. I was packing boxes in a clothing warehouse in London to be able to foot my next bill to go to the next European Tour event. So, I get it! 
There is a lesson in this: Passion is one thing, but you’ve got to be able to put the foundation underneath what you do. Sometimes that might be outside of your gate. 

I say that so many times to young professional golfers who come out and say “If only I can get a sponsor.”  Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do to be able to chase your dreams. 

How Social Media Changed the Game of Golf

Jeff: The biggest influence on my career, in terms of success, has been social media. What I mean by that is, growing up, I’m 43 years old, so when I got into golf there was one route, you go work at a club, you join the PGA, you become an apprentice, you get in the program and work your way up.

That all changed when social media came about because anybody who had enough courage to stand in front of a camera and present their information to an audience now had a path to success. Your audience is so vast now. People in this industry will have 50,000, 75,000, 100,000 followers.  I have 10x more lessons than I can even teach at this point. I have to turn down 80% of the people who contact me because there just simply isn’t enough hours in the day. 

Mark: That is how we became aware of you and Joe. Joe was a bit of the tip of the iceberg because he was more outspoken, you were a little bit more tempered in the release of your information. I know I experience it in broadcasting, you are going to receive a certain amount of hate from folks. Tell me how did you navigate, not just the positives, but the negatives of social media? 

Jeff: It is one of the things that left a sour taste in my mouth as golf as a profession. I think the coaching  aspect of golf is unlike any other profession or sport. Golf coaches for the last 50 years have been very secretive, very guarded, very insecure about their information. “Hey, I don’t want anyone to come and teach on my driving range.” “I’m not going to share what I do with other people.” This “Grow the game” initiative didn’t exist back then. Teachers just weren’t willing to share. 

Right now, we do golf schools together. Me, Joseph Mayo, Grant Waite, George Gankas, we will just have a collection of teachers and actually allow coaches to come and shadow our golf schools while we are teaching players. If I would have had that when I first started, I would have been all over it! If I could have watched all the legends back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s it would have been an incredible experience. Now we actually have that roadway with social media, internet, websites. The information is so freely available now that coaches and players can get so good, so fast. I’m living proof of it. 

Mark: On the PGA still, they see me coming; I’m a golf teacher, now with a microphone in my hand, so I’ll ask them the questions I should as an announcer and voice over, but every now and again I will ask them about what they do. Oftentimes, you still get “I’m working on a few things.”- you get the vague answer. What you say is why this On the Mark podcast exists! 

I want to make people like you available to people all around the world. When I was a young kid, growing up in South Africa, I had the golf digest. We didn’t have television. I used to clip out all the swing sequences. I looked at these sequences, and basically formed my own belief system. But now, as I am doing this I am opened up to a whole manner of minds. That is what is so much fun for me; to get folks collectively. Even though we get different people on this podcast somewhere, somehow, some person is going to find something that is going to help them to better understand. 

So we are really growing the game. Right? 

Jeff: No doubt! Even if they don’t find a technical nugget in your podcast, hopefully they will find some kind of inspirational nugget to get involved, and do something and have the courage to put their stuff out there for everybody to see, and critique, and criticize. 

Let’s Get Technical  

 [Timestamp: 18:12]

Mark: To really get the golf ball to go, you’ve got to strike this thing flush. You’ve got to compress the golf ball. Let’s talk a little bit about compression. 


Jeff: If you are going to describe compression, you’ve got to be able to define it. Trackman defines compression as spin loft. Spin loft is basically the difference between the dynamic loft of the club (how much loft you’re delivering to the golf ball) and the three dimensional travel of the club head. The angle of attack, whether the club is moving up into the ball, down into the ball, or level with the ball. The narrower the spin loft angle the more solid the strike is, the more compression there is. 

Think of hitting 2 or 3 degrees down on a one iron with not very much loft, there is going to be a high level of compression. 

When you think of the opposite side of spin loft, think of a hitting a sand wedge where the loft is point up in the air and the club is moving downward on the ball, that spin loft angle is very, very wide; so there is a very low measure of compression with a wedge. 

In terms of swing mechanics, as it relates to creating more compression, if we need to have less dynamic loft and need to have not a steep angle of attack to create low spin loft, then we are going to need to have some ability to be de-lofting the club at impact. We have some ability to be shallow into the golf ball.  Where I would go with that, from a swing mechanics perspective, is sequencing. 

When you think of good golfers who have a lot of rotation in their golf swing; so at impact their bodies are very rotated and very open to the target. You are not going to find many golfers who don’t have shaft lean who are in that position. 

So by definition, most golfers who are very rotated at impact, very open, have the handle some amount forward,  reducing dynamic loft. If you only did that, I would say you would be well on your way to creating more compression. 

Aligning the Wrists

Mark: [Timestamp: 22:08] Speak on how to align the wrists (or such) to get that face looking appropriate to what you say. 

Jeff: When I describe the golf swing, I’m heavily influenced with biomechanics and kinetics. Kinetics are basically just describing the golfer applied forces on the club. You will hear me talk a lot about forces and torque on the club. It is my fundamental belief that every golfer, what they do with their body in the downswing, is either staying in their tilt, staying in their posture, rotating, not rotating, sliding; everything they do after they have transitioned the golf club is a direct response to two things.
1. How the shaft hitches in transition. 

  • Does it steepen and get more vertical? 
  • Does it shallow? 

The way I describe that to students on my lesson tee is I define the center of mass of the golf club. Basically, the balanced point of the club. If you held the club on your finger where would that club balance? It would be somewhere down the shaft, closer to the club head.

I want to see, how does that point move in transition. Does it lay down and move behind the golfer? Or does it stand up and move in front of the golfer? 

  1. What is the face angle doing?
    **Notice I am not staying “What are they doing with the wrist?”
  • As the shaft is laying down, is the face angle closing?
  • Or is the face angle opening?

Functional Matchups

At the end of the day, golf is only about matchups, functional matchups, because if you stand on the PGA Tour range like I do every single week, you are going to look up and down it and go “Wow! There are a lot of different golf swings here!”

I have learned to view these golf swings in terms of matchups now. So, I know why they are doing what they are doing before I ever watch them hit a golf ball. 

When I watch a swing, I’m only paying attention to the very beginning stages of what I am describing right now. Which way is the center of mass moving in transition? Moving behind them, shallowly? Or is it moving steeply in front of them? 

And secondly, what are they doing with the face angle? Notice, I am not saying “What are they doing with the wrist?”. Golfers can have extended, cupped left wrists and a closed club face. It depends on how strong their grip is. 

You take a guy like Brendan Steele, he’s got a super strong grip, goes to the top, when he starts down the wrist looks cupped, but the shaft is shallowing and the face is closing. He takes a nice pivot and takes it around the corner. Brendan is one of the straightest drivers of a golf ball I’ve ever seen. 

You can look at the opposite side of that spectrum and look at John Robb. He has a super weak grip and flattens the shaft in transition, but he bows his wrist. So, why is he going into flexion? Because he had such a weak grip, he needed some mechanism for closing that face. 

The match up is he is flattening his shaft and closing the face. A golfer that steepens the shaft, they can’t afford to close the face early in transition because they will hit the ball to the left. 

How does a golfer get more compression?

Going back to the original question….How does a golfer get more compression?
The golfer that flattens the shaft, puts the center of mass behind them, and closes the face, the way they are going to use the body after that first move has happened is they are going to have more of a rotational pattern. 

At the beginning of this podcast, I said to get the golfer more compression, I would get the golfer more open at impact. Well, if your wrist is cupped at the top, and the face is wide open, the shaft is steep in transition, being open is not an option. You would slice the golf ball and not have any measure of compression.  

BUT the golfer who can put the sweet spot of the shaft behind them, close the face, now can rotate which is now going to have more shaft length and more reduction of that dynamic loft, THAT is when the compression is going to go up. 

Mark: [Timestamp: 28:30] For the golfer who is open and a little cupped at the top, and for the golfer who is closed at the top. How would they go about adjusting their situation? 

Jeff: For the masses, I would say they need to be working on closing the face the soonest in the down stroke. Closing the face the soonest in transition. Pulling the club the furthest behind them. 

Golf Myths

Mark: Let me stop you! Because we are about to blow a myth out of the water here!! They all say, you mustn’t cost the club, or you mustn’t…whatever…but when you get to closing that face it won’t look as lagged on the downswing as people think because I think folks misinterpret what lag should really look like. 

Jeff: You are 100% correct. There is a reason why guys like me who have done extensive measuring in 3D can put these pieces together, put these matchups together. If you think of your left wrist only, it is moving in 4 ways. It is moving into flexion (which is bowing and arching your wrist), it’s moving into extension (cupping your wrist), moving downward (ulnar deviation), and it’s moving upward (radial deviation).

The moving upward is the lag. Those four ranges of motion they go together. Extension, cupping your wrist, goes with radial deviation, which would be lag. 

Anytime we see someone who is really lagging the club you can guarantee their wrist is locked into radial deviation and extension to be able to support all of that lag. 

I grew up in that generation of golfers, and I think it destroyed a ton of good golfers because it created chaos at the bottom of the arch. It is THE MOST timing dependent golf pattern. 

Influence of the Balata Golf Ball

Mark: Some of that was influenced by the spinny Balata golf ball, I think some of it may have been a product of the equipment that was used at that stage. 

Jeff: It could have been. But I will say this: That spinny Balata golf ball, if we had had a better understanding of spin loft, we wouldn’t have been trying to beat down on that thing. I would have been trying to be shallower. But you are spot on with the equipment and that time. 

How Should your Wrist Feel? 

Mark: [Timestamp: 29:55] You speak of the club golfer, moving into more of a closed situation. Describe for the club golfer who may be tending open (and I would say probably 90% of them are) in transition, how that wrist you should feel when the body rotates open. 

Jeff: If you go to the top of your backswing and you have your left hand up in the air and your left hand only on the club, and imagine you were holding a fishing pole in your left hand. Everybody knows what a casting motion looks like. An un-cocking of the wrist. 

The bottom line is this:  As you un-cock the club – you are not actually going to be a un-cock the club as if you were casting a fishing pole because of other tourques that are happening on the club via rotation of your body – so i’m blending a rotational movement with the body with this feeling of un-cocking the left wrist (or casting a fishing pole) and also at the same time putting your left wrist into flexion- that’s that bowing or arching feel. 

On the lesson tee we call it flexion with ulnar deviation. The un-cocking and bowing of the left wrist. 

If you look at a golfer from face on, you will not see the angle between the left arm and the shaft getting narrower, you will see that angle getting WIDER.  As that angle gets wider, there are a couple of things that are happening 

  1. The sweet spot is lowering down behind the golfer
  2. the center mass is lowering down behind the golfer

    So it’s creating some geometry, traveling more in to out, relative to that golf ball.  We know that most golfers are out there slicing. 

Coming from the inside, I’m getting rid of the slice, but the club head is getting lower to the ground which means the angle of attack is getting shallower. 

Now I have a shallower angle of attack coming from the inside…here goes our compression starting to decline. As I’m going into flexion, I’m closing that club face, I’m reducing dynamic loft, I’m having the sweet spot travel more from the inside on a shallower angle of attack….I mean, how many benefits do you want me to name here?! I can keep going and going! 

Let’s Add a Little Speed

Mark: When you add speed to the equation, you better be pretty precise where you are presenting this club face to the arch. 

Jeff: If you are envisioning that transition move where the wrist is going into flexion and ulnar deviation, and that sweet spot is lowering down behind you, and that club face is closing, and that angle is getting wider, and that club is getting lower to the ground ….What is the golfer’s response going to be to the pivot of that? 

Mark: He’s going to turn. He’s going to start rotating. 

Jeff: Exactly. He has to. Going back to my initial statement, I believe everything a golfer does with their body is in response to how that center of mass is moving during transition. 

When I lower that things down behind me, I have two options:

  1. I can slide into the golf ball and hit the ground way behind the ball 
  2. I can maintain my body’s inclination, and turn and rotate and move the bottom of the arch forward so I hit the ball before the ground

Golfers don’t have to constantly thing about that. They have to hit one shot doing that, and they will say “Wow! I just hit the ground 6 inches behind the ball. I’m not going to do that on the next swing. How do I fix that? I’m going to start turning and rotating more.” 

The next thing you know, we’ve shallowed the angle of attack, we’ve de-lofted the club to close the club face angle, we’ve rotated more, creating more shaft length, and now we’ve got some compression. 

Drill For Better Rotation

Mark: Ok, now folks have got the clubs more laying down behind them, but still have that slide and tilt thing going on. So, they are hitting the ground early. Share a quick drill to help the golfer rotate better through the golf ball. 

Jeff: It is very rare to find that combination. To find a golfer who shallows the club, who early extends. Because golfer’s who early extend do it because in transition, the center of mass of the club isn’t moving behind them, it’s staying vertical, it’s steep. The early extension is simply a way to put a late outward force on the grip to get the club too shallow very late. 

If you think of the greatest of all time, Jack Nicklaus, if you look at Jack’s swing, you are going to see in transition a little bit of a steeper move, left arm a little bit more out, club not laying down so much. But then you are going to see Jack kind of stand up, a little bit of early extension, club lays down, and then he does that big reverse ‘C’. 

Don’t be extreme in what you do and what you teach. 

I start with the fundamentals of body segments. I teach them what the pelvis is doing at setup, what the pelvis should be doing in the course of the backswing, how it’s rotating and staying on an inclination, in transition how it lowers and maintains and a tilt, and through the ball how it rotates and maintains a tilt.

 I talk a lot about geometry in my lesson. I use a golf cart steering wheel. 

I’ll have them stand to the side of the golf cart and look at the steering wheel, and I’ll rotate it and say “This steering wheel is your pelvis. If I turn it this way, where is your right hip going?” “Oh, it’s going up and back.” “ When you swing down, where is your left hip going?” “It’s going up and back.”  So they see the geometry of the circle on the steering wheel and understand that “My hips need to work like that.” 

If their hips work like that, then they are maintaining their inclination to the ground, so their tilts are correct, they have more control over the club face, and move control over the club hat. 

I am in the process of developing a membership site. For players and instructors alike. I am pulling together a team of what I feel like are the brightest minds in golf. Jeff Pierce, Shauheen Nakjavani. If you think of Netflix, I’m going to have a team of guys who are essentially going to have their own Netflix channels, where they are going to be presenting their information. They have the courage to stand in front of a camera and give great information. People will be able to subscribe to this website. Low cost. Expanding the free flow of information to players and students. 

Wrap up with Mark Immelman:

[Timestamp: 43:16]

Great stuff with the beautiful way of Jeff describing how proper contact happens, and how matchups in the golf swing happen. 

It has always been my opinion that golf swing “mistakes” come in twos, matchups essentially. If you’ve got one error that doesn’t have a corresponding matchup, or a compensation, then the swing will be inconsistent. So match ups are important. I appreciate folks respecting match ups because that allows people to effectively swing their swing. 

Understanding How your Pelvis Works: Drill from Mark Immelman

I recommend going and understanding how your pelvis works. A simple drill I often times use is just assume your posture, no club, and ease back towards a wall; just so you have a little bit of space between your buttocks and the wall, and then rotate back and feel your trailing hip rotate behind you and raise and touch the wall. As you rotate down, feel your leading hip rotate and rise out of the way so you touch the wall in you feel how you transfer pressure in the ground, feel how you turn on your incline, on your spine angle, on that geometry that Jeff was talking about. Which incidentally Jeff has worked with on Aaron Wise, the 2018 winner the ATT Byron Nelson, if you get that done, it puts into position the axle, this sort of wheel, that is the golf swing. 

Follow Jeff Smith on Social Media: 
  • Twitter: @radargolf pro 
  • Instagram: @radargolfpro

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